See no need for auction of satcom spectrum: Mittal | The Financial Express

See no need for auction of satcom spectrum: Mittal

Bharti-backed OneWeb eyes India launch by July-Aug

telecom revenue, spectrum
OneWeb has currently spent nearly $6 billion (around Rs 49,400 crore) to put in the constellation of its low-earth orbit satellites.

As Bharti Enterprises-backed satellite communication (satcom) service provider OneWeb prepares for the launch of its services in India by July-August, chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal on Sunday expressed hope that the allocation of spectrum for the same won’t be done through auctions.

He said that the spectrum for satellite services is not owned by a single company but is a shared resource, and there’s only a limited requirement, so allocation should be done administratively.

“Our needs are only at two places (ground stations having 30-40 acre area). So, I don’t know how you auction for a 30-40 acres of two ground station networks at a time,” Mittal told reporters after the satellite launch event by OneWeb with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

“This is a shared spectrum. They will never allocate this individually to me and it makes no sense for us to get it (exclusively via auction) because we don’t need it for more than two places in the country,” Mittal said, adding that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) should come out with a policy which fully capitalises on these projects for the benefit of India’s most remote parts, and emergency services.

“Globally, there is no spectrum auction for satellite services because this is a shared resource. I am hopeful that the government will follow the global practices,” Mittal said. “In the mobile industry, when I get the spectrum, it’s mine, I use it for a period of time (let’s say 20 years) and nobody else has the right to come into this spectrum. In the case of satellite spectrum, it is a shared resource. Nobody gets it dedicated, everybody has to share the spectrum,” Mittal added.

Satellite ground stations are required to provide real-time communication with satellites. These stations send radio signals to the satellite (uplink), receive data from the satellite (downlink) and serve as control centres for satellite network.

OneWeb has a constellation of 618 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites globally.

Analysts said if the government’s satellite communication policy, which deals with the methodology of allocating spectrum, does not come on time, OneWeb’s launch in India could get delayed. “If the delay happens on the government’s side, which I hope not, we are just going to deprive ourselves from giving services because we cannot land this in India unless we have the permissions,” Mittal said. He added that capacities dedicated to India cannot be moved to other places.

Trai chairman PD Vaghela has earlier said that the spectrum for satellite communication will be allocated through auctions and India would be the first country to resolve the issues around it. One of the key challenges Trai is faced with is how to sell unit-wise spectrum that is on a per megahertz (MHz) basis.

With regard to the pricing of satellite broadband services, Mittal said that it will be higher and cannot be on a par with the “extremely low” mobile tariffs in the country.

OneWeb is also leveraging the expertise of Airtel in launching its two satellite ground stations in Gujarat and Madurai. Indus Towers is creating one ground station, whereas the other is being taken up by Nxtra Data, Airtel’s data centre arm.

“The enterprise wing of Airtel will be selling the (satellite connectivity) services to the enterprise customers who have godowns or factories in remote areas. They are already talking to the customers,” Mittal said, adding that Hughes is OneWeb’s joint venture and will be the primary source of sales into the rest of the market, including the government.

Globally, OneWeb has over 1.1 tbps (terabyte per second) of satellite connectivity capacity and of that, India has 11 gbps (gigabyte per second) capacity, which it will sell through Hughes.

Globally, OneWeb is looking at a revenue potential of over $1 billion (Rs 8,200 crore) from selling the capacity of 1.1 tbps and expects the revenue to increase once the operations scale going forward. The biggest markets for the company are the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, and West Asia. The company is leveraging partnerships with different players including the telecom operators to provide their services instead of going directly to consumers.

On competition in the satellite communication sector, Mittal said “the space industry competition is hot enough, but equally there are too many players and that’s why consolidation has become important”.

He expects three-four companies, including SpaceX-owned Starlink and Viasat-Inmarsat, to complete the space communication industry.

“There is a difference in our strategy in tapping the space (compared with Starlink). We give what is called dedicated bandwidth to each customer. So, if you have many people in the same place, you’ll see Starlink’s speed drop dramatically, whereas we will give what is called, commitment information rates (CIR) to each consumers, which means they will pay for what they are contracted for,” Mittal said.

OneWeb has currently spent nearly $6 billion (around Rs 49,400 crore) to put in the constellation of its low-earth orbit satellites. On the two launches from India, the company has spent about Rs 1,100 crore.

Satellite communication is extremely useful for providing broadband services in remote, hilly and inaccessible regions. It is also the only medium through which communication can be established in disaster zones when normal communication is affected.

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First published on: 27-03-2023 at 06:15 IST
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