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India's satcom market on an upswing

Recent approval to Eutelsat OneWeb and launch of JioSpaceFiber add to the excitement around India's emerging satellite connectivity sector.

Gagandeep Kaur

November 28, 2023

3 Min Read
A picture of a satellite (on the left) and a satellite dish (on the right) with lines of code in the background.
(Source: Klaus Ohlenschlaeger/Alamy Stock Photo)

India is moving fast towards the launch of commercial satellite-based communication services. Recently, Eutelsat OneWeb has been given approval to start offering services in the country, while Reliance Jio launched JioSpaceFiber last month.

Eutelsat OneWeb is the first company to receive authorization from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) to launch commercial satellite-based services once it secures spectrum. Reliance Jio, meanwhile, demonstrated India's first satellite-based services by connecting four locations: Gir in Gujarat, Korba in Chattisgarh, Nabrangpur in Odisha and ONGC in Assam. It has partnered with Luxembourg-based SES and uses the medium-Earth orbit (MEO) constellation to provide connectivity.

The India Space Policy 2023, adopted earlier this year, allows local and international companies to use low Earth orbit (LEO) and MEO satellites to provide broadband services in the country. According to a recent ISPA-NASSCOM-Deloitte report, the market potential of providing satellite-based broadband connectivity in remote areas is around $263 million over the next five years.

Over the next few years, India is likely to witness significant developments in the satellite communications segment. Eutelsat OneWeb would be competing with Elon Musk's StarLink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper and JioSpaceFiber, among others. Other players are also in the process of acquiring approval from IN-SPACe to provide connectivity services in the country.

Rural and Enterprise

The biggest use case for satellite communications is in providing connectivity in rural and remote areas to bring down the digital divide. With almost 50% of India's population yet to be connected, satellite-based communications can play a crucial role bridging this gap.

The biggest challenge, however, is the high cost of terminals required for satellite services. Last year, SpaceX started accepting pre-orders for Starlink terminals in India at a refundable charge of around $99, which is quite a high price for those living in rural areas. SpaceX was subsequently barred by Indian authorities from making sales without the required approvals.

"The digital divide in India is a function of many factors, including family income, access to low-cost modems and devices, and so forth. In other words, Internet service must be made possible without expensive terminals such as is currently being utilized around the world with LEO/MEO/GEO [low Earth orbit/middle Earth orbit/geosynchronous equatorial orbit] satellite systems," says Bill Rojas, adjunct research director for communications at IDC Asia/Pacific.

There are other areas where the technology can help improve connectivity in rural India. For instance, satellite-based backhaul for 4G/5G basestations will eliminate the need for telcos to lay fiber to them, making it much easier to provide connectivity in rural areas. "The impact will be most felt in 5G cellular backhauling in remote and rural areas," says Rojas.

"Long term, the 3GPP is aiming with Release 17 and Release 18 to complete the specifications for smartphone-to-satellite connectivity," says Rojas, noting the "bent pipe passive role of the satellite can regenerate the signals." 

"Also, the Intersatellite Link technology, which enables LEO constellations to form mesh networks, means that there will be more flexibility on the location of ground stations in India, such as placing them close to major data centers and submarine cable landing stations. As a result of these different developments major stakeholders in India are pursuing satellite solutions," adds Rojas.

Satellite-based enterprise connectivity is, meanwhile, likely to witness considerable growth in satellite capacity demand in the country. Several industry verticals, including oil, gas and mining; agriculture; transportation and logistics; merchant shipping; and defense are likely to lead the demand for satellite-based communications.

One of the biggest challenges is a lack of clarity as to how spectrum will be allocated. The industry is divided, with some players, including Jio, urging the government to auction the spectrum, while Airtel and others advocate a non-auction route to administer the spectrum. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is yet to share its recommendations on the matter.

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Asia

About the Author(s)

Gagandeep Kaur

Contributing Editor

With more than a decade of experience, Gagandeep Kaur Sodhi has worked for the most prominent Indian communications industry publications including Dataquest, Business Standard, The Times of India, and Voice&Data, as well as for Light Reading. Delhi-based Kaur, who has knowledge of and covers a broad range of telecom industry developments, regularly interacts with the senior management of companies in India's telecom sector and has been directly responsible for delegate and speaker acquisition for prominent events such as Mobile Broadband Summit, 4G World India, and Next Generation Packet Transport Network.

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