Govt may let satcom companies provide wireless service

New Delhi: The government is considering a proposal to allow broadband-from-space players such as Jio Satellite Communications, the satcom arm of Reliance Jio, and Bharti Group-backed OneWeb, to provide wireless connectivity to consumers with enabling handsets, officials said.

The move to grant mobility services authorisation to Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite Services (GMPCS) licence holders will potentially pave the way for companies such as Elon Musk-owned Starlink – which has applied for the licence – to compete with mobile service providers, experts said.

An inter-ministerial panel involving the ministries of defence and home affairs, departments of telecommunications and space, and the cabinet secretariat will decide on the matter after security clearance, officials aware of the details told ET.

“The meeting is expected in a couple of weeks,” one of them said.

To be sure, a GMPCS licence already allows mobility services. But the authorisation for such services was held back by DoT when it gave letters of intent (LoI) to OneWeb and Jio Satellite. “The LoIs issued to OneWeb and Jio are for fixed satellite services,” a second official said.

At that time, there was no device ecosystem and wireless satellite voice and data service could not be demonstrated.But now, the two companies have informed the government that the device ecosystem is starting to build up and it will become more prevalent in the future, officials said. For example, Apple’s latest iPhone models support satellite connectivity while chipset companies such as Qualcomm and Mediatek are developing satellite-enabled chipsets.Jio and OneWeb did not reply to emailed queries till press time Thursday.


Experts are of the view that while satcom services are currently complementary to terrestrial services, they can in the future compete as technology evolves.

A satcom industry executive said that once the technology matures and the networks become interoperable, consumers can get seamless connectivity from satellites.

Also, in the future, a subscriber could potentially be unaware if he or she has received a call or message on a terrestrial network or a satcom network, experts said.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman PD Vaghela told ET that currently satcom services are complementing telecom and can help provide connectivity in far-flung areas, but in future, they can compete with each other.

Seeing the potential of satcom, the telecom regulator has not recommended any cut in entry fee for GMPCS and VSAT authorisations even as it proposed a 50% cut in entry fee for various licences including unified license for access services.

The satellite communications market in India is at a nascent stage but the potential is substantial, particularly in rural and remote areas. As per an EY-ISpA report, India’s space economy is set to rise to $13 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6%.

While both Jio and OneWeb have got GMPCS licences, they are awaiting clarity around spectrum allocation.

Starlink is waiting for approval of its GMPCS application while Amazon’s Project Kuiper and Tata Group satcom company Nelco have also evinced interest in serving the world’s second-largest telecom market with fast broadband services using satellites.

Mobile operators Jio Infocomm and Vodafone Idea have been pitching for auction of satellite spectrum while Bharti group has backed an administrative route, or without auctions. Trai is expected to give recommendations on satellite spectrum allocation soon.


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