Indian PM backs ISpA satcom body; Mittal says “space race” has begun

ISpA space
Image by naratrip | Bigstockphoto

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government has opened up its space sector for corporate houses, start-ups, and academia to ‘exponentially innovate’ to deliver solutions even to the remotest corners of the country; Modi said on Monday.

Modi, who presided over the launch of the Indian Space Association (ISpA), said that the Indian government is bringing reforms in the space sector, which would make India the world’s hub for the cost-effective launch of satellites besides making it the supplier of “critical components” for the space system supply chain.

ISpA will help drive India’s vision of making the country self-reliant in the space arena. The association will engage with stakeholders across the ecosystem to formulate an enabling policy framework besides working towards building global linkages for the Indian space industry to bring in critical technology and investments into the country to create more high skill jobs.

ISpA’s founding members include Bharti Airtel, Larson & Toubro, Nelco (Tata Group), OneWeb, Mapmyindia, Hughes India, Walchandnagar Industries and Alpha Design Technologies.

Godrej, Ananth Technology Limited, Azista-BST Aerospace Private Limited, BEL, Centum Electronics and Maxar India are other core members of the new body.

Modi said that the new association would give an impetus to the government’s endeavour to open up its space-related test facilities, the launch of communication satellites, and the private sector setting up of ground stations.

During the launch of ISpA, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said the “space race” had truly begun and was accelerating each day.

“We are seeing that very very large and powerful countries along with the private sector are moving their agenda at a very fast pace. Without the support of the governments, this becomes impossible,” Mittal said, who is also the chairman of Bharti-based OneWeb.

“New technologies are indeed where billions of dollars are being spent and are upending old technologies. It is, therefore, time for us to move. In the next three to five years, the space industry will dramatically alter,” Mittal said.

Mittal’s own company Bharti Airtel through investments from Bharti Enterprises and OneWeb is joining this race at a swift pace.

“OneWeb will bring in connectivity to the nation and ensure that we provide connectivity to every square inch of our country. OneWeb, which has got only 322 satellites in space, will be providing those services in the middle of next year to the entire country – oceans, deserts, forests, and importantly, rural hinterland,” Mittal revealed.

OneWeb and Bharti Airtel Monday entered into an agreement with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), to use Indian-built PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) and the heavier GSLV-MkIII (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) as potential platforms to launch OneWeb’s satellites in India from 2022.

The non-binding Letter of Intent was unveiled at the launch of the Indian Space Association (ISpA). OneWeb is building its initial constellation of 648 LEO satellites and has already put 322 satellites into orbit.

The company’s services will begin this year in the Arctic region, including Alaska, Canada, and the UK.

PJ Nath, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer of Nelco, a Tata Group company, also said that the Indian government must give access to global customers and import technology and equipment from around the world to build a cohesive satellite technology.

Top government officials attended the launch event, including the newly appointed Telecom Secretary  K Rajaram and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman P D Vaghela.

Vaghela revealed that the regulator would shortly bring a comprehensive consultation paper on the licencing framework for setting up satellite earth station gateways in India. This

“Trai will shortly release a consultation paper on the licensing framework for setting up satellite earth station gateways, and believes multi-stakeholders should be allowed to set up such earth stations, and not merely service licensees, to attract even bigger investments into the space sector and boost satellite capacities,” Vaghela said.

The telecom regulator had previously backed the “Open Sky policy” in the space sector. The open sky policy aims to help leverage global low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems to bridge India’s current satellite capacity shortfalls and help deliver low-cost, fast satellite broadband services in India.

Trai had recently recommended that companies offering satellite-based IoT connectivity and low bit-rate services be allowed to hire foreign satellite capacities for longer tenures, beyond the currently permissible 3-5 years spans to make such services more affordable in India.

During the launch event, Vaghela said that the regulator was hopeful that DoT would back Trai’s recent call to allow companies offering satellite-based IoT connectivity.

The telecom secretary K Rajaram said that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Trai are exploring ways to ensure efficient use of “finite spectrum resources” for both 5G and satellite internet services.

While addressing delegates virtually at the launch of ISpA, Rajaram said that spectrum in the C and Ka bands are required for both high throughput satellites and are also crucial for 5G services.

“Since spectrum is a finite resource, it’s necessary to ensure efficient use of spectrum, and this (exercise) includes revisiting the users in the existing frequency bands as well as in the new frequency bands…we are engaged in this exercise in consultation with Trai,” Rajaram said.

Notably, satellite players and Indian telecom operators are currently at loggerheads over auctioning mmWave satellite spectrum in the 28 GHz band, also known as the `Ka’ band.

Satellite companies urged India to avoid auctioning mmWave satellite spectrum in the 28 GHz band for 5G services, saying such a move would impact their data download speeds and geographical reach in India. However, Indian telcos want spectrum in the band to be made available through auction.

Related article: OneWeb, Viasat apply for licence to offer satellite broadband in India

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