The jungle book

Indian broadband and digital satellite services ready for take off – Tele-Talk by TV Ramachandran


It would be no exaggeration to say that never in the past two decades has there been as much optimism and hope in the Indian satellite industry as in the past eighteen months. There was no way to stop the juggernaut after the Honorable Minister of Finance launched it on May 20 with his historic announcement of the government’s determination to step up privatization and liberalization of the sector, as part of the economic stimulus plans. Since then, the flow of various policy and regulatory initiatives has been strong and constant, and the enthusiasm of investors and stakeholders has increased dramatically.

The Space Ministry was quick to launch consultations with a draft Spacecom policy, and the Telecommunications Ministry announced a significantly liberating amendment to the VSAT business license agreements. This was followed by the DoT Telecommunications Engineering Center which carried out a series of brilliant moves to reorganize and modernize the technical rules of communication and broadcast networks for the satellite sector, and more recently the TRAI published historical recommendations on “the licensing framework for satellite connectivity based on low-speed applications”.

In the area of ​​commercial satellite communications and broadcasting, the way forward for India is only upward and still growing, as our penetration and use of satellite communications is well below comparable regimes. So it’s no surprise that, as a result of the above announcements, almost every day we see activity reports from one big satellite player or another, both existing and new. The names of Tata Nelco, Hughes, One Web of Bharti and the UK Government, Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper resonate on all sides. At the same time, retrograde footsteps are rife with regard to the allocation of satcom spectrum which is said to be completely out of step with global practice. It is very disturbing. Big, reputable investors wait and watch clearly before jumping into big spending.

Despite recent progressive movements, it must be admitted that Indian commercial satellite communications today are only where land mobile communications were twenty years ago, until the NTP99 policy triggered explosive growth in this area. sector.

Experts believe that political action similar to that taken for terrestrial telecommunications through the NTP 1999 is what is required today for satellite communications and broadcasting. Although the individual measures initiated are encouraging, serious investors and entrepreneurs need the comfort of a clear Satcom policy which charts the way forward as a complement or element of the future Spacecom policy.

Some of the important recommendations to be taken into account in the new satcom policy are given below:

  • Satcom policy should be aligned with Telegraph Law, TRAI Law and NDCP 2018 as these three rules govern all telecommunications in India. In fact, the NDCP 2018 specifically covers satellite communications in three subsections – 1.3 (a), 1.3 (b) and 1.3 (c).
  • Ensure technological neutrality, a level playing field and non-discriminatory treatment for all new satellite technologies and all types of satellites.
  • Satellite spectrum: One of the main focus areas for an effective telecommunications policy for India would be to ensure that spectrum for telecommunications continues to be allocated in accordance with global best practices and taking into account vital aspects which, from by its very nature, constitute a resource shared between different players. All over the world, the satcom spectrum is therefore allocated administratively for obvious practical and technical-economic reasons. India cannot afford to lag behind the others by making exceptions that could potentially hamper the prospects for improvement in the sector.
  • Satellite broadband: The need to provide ubiquitous digital connectivity to the most remote corners of the country demands that all satellite licenses include the provision of broadband, to increase both the penetration and proliferation of quality digital services for the masses. In fact, the need of rural citizens is much higher for quality broadband compared to their urban brethren. It is difficult to meet this requirement by the terrestrial media. Therefore, in India, satellite services do not have to be limited to narrowband only and must necessarily cover broadband.
  • AGR issues: The recent clarifications made by the government in the case of mobile telecommunications should be extended to also cover satellite communications and broadcasting services, in order to ensure reasonable financial conditions. In any case, this is also necessary for a level playing field.
  • Provide the license term for at least 20 years for the given orbital resources – both in the broadcast and broadband segments, to ensure business continuity.
  • Authorize direct commercial agreements between satellite operators and various licensed satellite service providers.
  • Establish a time-limited one-stop-shop authorization mechanism for approval / authorization processes.
  • Approve pending applications and new applications to build and launch satellites outside India within a set timeframe of, say 90 days, provided they comply with Indian regulatory requirements.
  • Rural connectivity: Reduce levies such as withholding taxes, Antrix / NSIL markup, spectrum usage fees, monitoring fees collected by the NOCC (a branch of DoT) and GST for rural broadband.

As the table above shows, compared to the United States, Europe and other advanced countries in the world that follow an open skies policy, India has implemented a very restricted policy for satellite communications. If we are to meet the huge need for bandwidth / capacity to meet the rapidly and steadily growing demand for data, we must open the skies for foreign satellite operators to offer their existing capacity over India to supplement the available local capacity and for private parties to contribute in this vital area. We should also encourage foreign companies to install satellites over India, which can then act as an intermediary between the current regime of leasing foreign satellite capacity and that of foreign satellite providers who set up and launch. satellites over India using Indian orbital slots. . At the same time, we must also develop the national satellite ecosystem.

So far satcom in India has been mainly used to provide connectivity to remote areas and narrowband connectivity to ATMs to facilitate financial inclusion. But the advent of the latest technological advancements – both in terms of next-generation satellites (LEO / MEO / HEO, etc.), especially for bandwidth-hungry next-generation applications.

Speaking of next-gen, 5G would also need Satcom to deliver ubiquitous satellite-powered services for content delivery networks (CDNs), edge computing, and video service delivery to end users, while enabling broadband delivery via direct home delivery. , businesses and government customers.

In addition, the introduction of satcom in the 5G standard in future Releases 17 and 18 by 3GPP heralds an era of convergence of terrestrial and satellite technologies, leading to a homogeneous mapping of coverage and capacity likely to cover the entire globe. This would be extremely important for a country like India, which largely lacks broadband in rural, remote and peripheral areas, as it would essentially be able to provide high speed, high capacity broadband services to every part of the country, thereby empowering and empowering our people.

The future of Indian satellites is undeniably bright. There is indeed a mighty tide in our satellite seas and we must take it afloat with an appropriate policy to achieve or surpass the success achieved in mobile communications.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily subscribe to them. will not be responsible for damages caused to any person / organization directly or indirectly.


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