Satellite broadband: Bharti’s OneWeb applies for Satcom licence

A query sent to OneWeb regarding the licence application and launch of services remain unanswered till the time of going to the press.

Even as some telecom operators and technology players slug out over satellite communication spectrum – whether it should be auctioned or allocated administratively – Bharti Enterprises-led OneWeb has applied for a global mobile personal communication system (GMPCS) licence for providing satellite broadband services.

While the licence can be granted to the company by the department of telecommunications (DoT) anytime, the allocation of spectrum is likely to be done only once the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the government decide whether the airwaves need to be auctioned or allocated administratively.

The London-headquartered company plans to launch a total of 648 low earth orbit (Leo) satellites by June 2022 to construct a global satellite constellation that will provide enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world.

Currently 238 Leo satellites are operational and another 36 will be launched by this month end. After this, OneWeb will be able to launch services 50 degree north of latitude in Scandinavian countries, Alaska and parts of Europe.

According to industry sources, partial service from OneWeb could be available over India from end of the year. From June 2022 onwards, upon the completion of the Leo satellite constellation, India and the entire South Asia, including Indian Ocean, will have 24×7 service availability.

“OneWeb is in advance preparations to start laying the required infrastructure like ground stations in India to enable services,” said a source on condition of anonymity. The Sunil Mittal-led firm had marked its entry into satellite business in November 2020.

A query sent to OneWeb regarding the licence application and launch of services remain unanswered till the time of going to the press.

Apart from OneWeb, other global tech majors like Amazon and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have also shown interest in offering satellite-based broadband services in India but so far these firms have not applied to the DoT for a licence. A licence from DoT is required as the firms need satellite spectrum for uplink and downlink.

As reported by FE, telecom operators and technology players have adopted differing stands on the allocation of spectrum. Within telecom players also all three players have not taken a unified stand. For instance, while Bharti Airtel – a distinct entity from OneWeb – has maintained silence on the issue of mode of allocation of spectrum and not taken a categorical position either for auctions or against it; Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are batting for auction of spectrum.

Quite to the contrary, Broadband India Forum, an association of technology players like Google, Hughes, etc, is opposed to auctions and has said that since spectrum for satellite communication is not exclusive to an operator as is the case with terrestrial spectrum used for mobile services, auctioning makes no sense.

“World over, satellite spectrum is authorised for ‘a right-to-use’ by all administrations everywhere and is allocated only by administrative process at charges essentially covering the cost of administration. Unlike terrestrial spectrum, satellite spectrum is never exclusively assigned to the operator but coordinated internationally and shared among multiple operators for different orbital slots and all types of satellites. Thus, the terrestrial concept of exclusivity does not apply and auctioning therefore not applicable,” Broadband India Forum (BIF) president, TV Ramachandran told FE.

According to industry estimates, there could be 100-200K users in next couple of years for satellite broadband.

Satellite communications 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 gets affected. In satellite communications, services are provided through Leo satellites, through which a box is suspended in remote and hilly regions which creates Wi-Fi spots through which broadband services are provided.

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