Global satellite players urge India to stop Starlink from selling broadband

Starlink satellite broadband
Image by naratrip | Bigstockphoto

Companies like OneWeb, Amazon, Hughes and Google have asked India’s space research organisation (ISRO) and the telecom regulator (TRAI) to stop Elon Musk’s SpaceX from pre-selling the beta version of its Starlink satellite-based broadband internet services in India.

Through their representative body, these companies asked both the authorities to block Starlink’s beta launch in India, claiming that Musk’s satellite company neither the license nor the authorization to offer such services in the country.

The Broadband India Forum (BIF), in its letters to ISRO and TRAI, said that Musk’s company hadn’t received any satellite frequency authorisation from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and ISRO to offer beta services. It highlighted that Starlink doesn’t have its own earth stations in India.

“SpaceX’s Starlink service appeared to be non-compliant to the existing guidelines for testing of a communication service, which stipulated that while in the testing phase, no commercial launch can take place….we request you to urgently intervene to protect fair competition and adherence to existing policy and regulatory norms,” Broadband India Forum president TV Ramachandran said in the letters to ISRO and TRAI.

The BIF complaint follows one by private Indian telecom operators that asked the Department of Space and the Department of Telecommunications to prevent satellite operators from gaining backdoor entry into the communications market. Telcos, through the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), urged the government that to ensure a level-playing field in the country’s satellite broadband space.

Notably, SpaceX wrote to the Indian telecom regulator seeking changes in existing rules and regulations to allow satellite technology for broadband access in the country’s remote areas.

SpaceX recently began offering satellite-based internet service under beta phase on pre-orders in India for a fully refundable deposit of $99. The company’s beta service is already available in urban areas, such as the Delhi-Noida Direct Flyway or Delhi-Jaipur Expressway, as per its website. 

“Starlink is available to a limited number of users per coverage area at this time. Orders will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis,” Starlink’s website reads.

The company expects to start offering internet connectivity to Indian users in 2022 through satellites it will launch into orbit. OneWeb also plans to launch fast satellite broadband services in remote areas of India in the middle of 2022.

SpaceX claims that its technology can support high-speed, low-latency broadband services in any part of the world, including remote areas, at a much cheaper rate than operators. It uses more than 1,000 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and plans to increase the number to 42,000 by mid-2027.

SpaceX’s Starlink service will directly compete with Bharti Group-backed OneWeb in India. Globally, it will also compete with Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

India recently opened up Indian’s space sector and is aiming to create a level playing field for private satellite builders, satellite launchers and space-based service providers to invest aggressively in India.

Global satellite players had earlier this year urged the Indian government to allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) through the automatic route to set up Indian private companies for participation in satellite broadband space and help play a greater role in broadband proliferation.

India’s telecom regulator recently sought views of the satellite industry stakeholders to make satellite communications affordable and attract investment into the space, which is seeing interest from SpaceX Technologies and OneWeb.

As per the TRAI, the cost of satellite-based services is on the higher side in the country, and end-users have not widely adopted it.

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) already said that the DoT’s current licensing framework for satellite-based services has limitations with respect to the proposed satellite-based low-bit-rate services.

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