Satellite broadband service rollout: Reliance Jio gets LoI; Bharti OneWeb services delayed and more

Reliance Jio Infocomm’s satellite unit has received a letter of intent (LoI) from the Telecom Department for satellite communication services. According to industry sources, the LoI has been issued to Jio Satellite Communications Ltd (JSCL). The Department of Telecom (DoT) has granted Jio the LoI for global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) services. Jio’s satellite arm is the second company to receive DoT approval to deliver broadband services via satellites after Bharti Group-backed OneWeb. Earlier this year, Reliance had announced a joint venture to provide satellite-based broadband services across India, joining the race with billionaires Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Sunil Mittal‘s OneWeb to offer reliable, high-speed internet everywhere. Nelco, a Tata group satcom company, and Canada’s Telesat too are said to be eyeing to launch satellite broadband services in India. Amazon too is reportedly planning to launch internet services in India.
What is the permit to Jio Satellite Communications Ltd about
The granting of LoI means that Reliance Jio Infocomm’s satellite unit, Jio Satellite Communications Ltd, can set up and operate the GMPCS services in the licensed service areas. The licences are for a period of 20 years (from the date of its grant after fulfilling stipulated conditions). The offerings under GMPCS include voice and data services via satellite. These mobile satellite networks can operate with low-earth orbit (LEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO) and Geosynchronous (GEO) satellites. Jio Platforms had announced a joint venture with Luxembourg-based SES to provide the satellite-based broadband services in India.
What is the status of OneWeb and SpaceX’s rollout
Rival Bharti Group-backed OneWeb’s rollout of broadband-from-space services in India has been pushed back to at least August 2023 as the company is reportedly unable to conclude its low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite launches amid the continuing war between Russia and Ukraine. The third big company in the fray, the Elon Musk-run SpaceX, is believed to have abandoned its affordable internet project Starlink in the country.
Why OneWeb services have been delayed
OneWeb had originally planned to roll out broadband services in India by May-June 2022. Hughes Communications India, a JV between Hughes and Bharti Airtel, will be distributing OneWeb’s space broadband services in India. US-based Hughes, through its parent company EchoStar, is also a stakeholder in OneWeb. But the launch schedule of its LEO satellites was impacted by the Ukraine crisis when the company had to suspend launches from a key cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Till date, around 65% of OneWeb’s targeted 648-strong global LEO constellation are in orbit.
Why Elon Musk’s Starlink services hit a roadblock in India
Starlink registered its business in India via a local unit, Starlink Satellite Communications in India. However, the DoT under the Ministry of Communications, in December last year (2021) warned Starlink to get the necessary permission required to offer satellite-based internet services in the country. The government told Starlink to stop “booking/rendering the satellite internet service” in India without licence. Starlink later announced that it will apply for a commercial licence in India by January 31, 2022. But this never happened.
When are satellite broadband services expected to start in India
The satellite broadband services rollout is not likely to start before the second half of 2023. One big wait is also clarity in policy for the same. The satellite services can be launched by the companies when there is clarity around spectrum allocation for satellite communications. The DoT is currently awaiting the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on the matter. As per a report in Economic Times, “Currently, satellite firms are using delicensed KU band spectrum for VSAT services, but DoT is considering changing that in future with the prevalence of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. DoT has already sent a reference to Trai seeking recommendations for the pricing of KU/KA bands. The DoT wants the spectrum for such services to be auctioned.”

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