Sources said that Musk’s satellite internet venture, Starlink, and Amazon have held separate consultations with the telecom ministry – as well as the Department of Space – for starting satellite-based internet services in India, “though they are yet to apply for a license through the formal route”.
“Consultants representing the companies have had discussions with us, and have indicated that they are keen to offer internet services in India using a constellation of satellites. We expect them to apply for the licence very soon,” a telecom department source said.
Currently, OneWeb – where Mittal’s Bharti Global holds the largest stake and has partners such as the UK government – has publicly announced plans of launching satellite-based services in India by next year (also launching across other global geographies). OneWeb has received a national long distance (NLD) license from the telecom department.
The plan of the companies is to offer large swathes of bandwidth – with speeds as high as 1 GBPS and even more – through low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites that would be deployed at a distance of around 1,000km from Earth.
The bandwidth would then be sold to a variety of users/customers that will include business enterprises, railways, shipping companies, defence establishments, airlines, and telecom companies, thus directly competing with the likes of Airtel and Jio.
Also, these services can be used to reach dark zones in rural areas, as well as difficult terrains such as deserts and mountainous regions, and those infested with naxals and other sensitive locations.
The telecom department source said that companies will have to follow the guidelines stipulated for telecom services as and when they begin services. “All the mandates, including those around lawful interception and other security needs, will need to be adhered to as per the licensing conditions.”
Musk has said publicly that his company is keen to come to India through his ambitious project, Starlink, and is studying government regulations for beginning services. “Just figuring out the regulatory approval process,” he had told a user on Twitter recently when asked about the India plans.
In fact, Starlink has appointed Sanjay Bhargava – a “founding employee” of PayPal (where Musk was amongst the co-founders) – as “country director” for India.
Bhargava, who joins the company from Friday, had said on his LinkedIn page a few days back, “Super excited to join Space X effective October 1, 2021, as Starlink country director India. Had worked with @elonmusk on the PayPal founding team. Have been in India since 2004 and Starlink and I share a common passion for supporting a transformed India starting with rural India.”
Amazon, also a top online retailer in India, is looking to step into the satellite-based internet service in the country. The company, as per sources, feels that a bigger footprint in India through high-speed broadband will help it reach a wider online audience, which can also be another enabler for its retail business.
Amazon will get its services in India through its “Project Kuiper” programme which is engaged in launching low-earth orbit satellites to cover the entire globe.
A few weeks back, Mittal’s OneWeb and American Hughes Network entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a strategic agreement to distribute internet services to large enterprises, small and medium businesses, government, telcos and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in rural and remote parts of the country.