Indian telcos get nod to use satellite-based backhaul for mobile services

satellite backhaul
VSAT parabolic receiver. Image by Zyabich | Bigstockphoto

India has allowed Indian telecom operators to use satellite-based backhaul through VSAT terminals to provide mobile data connectivity services in remote and far-flung regions. Providing stable connectivity has been challenging in these areas as it is difficult to lay optical fibre networks to connect mobile towers.

The country’s telecom regulator, Trai, had previously recommended the use of satellite-based backhaul by telcos in remote areas.

The approval has come from the Digital Communications Commission (DCC), the highest decision-making body of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

The move will allow Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea to use satellite capacity of existing VSAT permit-holders to offer 4G/5G services and Wi-Fi-based fast broadband in rural regions.

Hughes Communications, Nelco and state-run BSNL are among few prominent VSAT permit holders in India.

“With a view of ease of doing business, the DCC has approved the provision of cellular backhaul connectivity via satellite through VSAT for telecom services as per Trai recommendation,” Anshu Prakash, secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), was quoted as saying by PTI.

Prakash added that the move would reduce CAPEX requirements, allow better mobile services to consumers in areas where it will be difficult to fiberize.

The move also comes at a time when players like Bharti-backed OneWeb and Starlink are preparing to start operations leveraging their global low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.

Bharti Enterprises and OneWeb chairman Sunil Mittal last week told media that OneWeb plans to offer satellite bandwidth capacity to Indian telecom operators for mobile backhaul. He also informed that OneWeb would also provide its satellite-based connectivity services to India’s armed forces camped in the Himalayas, shipping, railways and forest departments. 

OneWeb will soon apply for the VSAT license along with other permissions to comply with the current regulations. 

Trai had also recommended lowering the applicable spectrum usage charges (SUC) for VSAT permit holders to 1% of adjusted gross revenue (excluding licensed revenue from non-satellite-based services) from 4% now. The DCC, however, didn’t give its approval for this and suggested that further deliberation is needed on the implications.

The DCC has also cleared the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the rollout of the BharatNet project for broadband services in villages of 16 states through public-private partnership (PPP)  mode with viability gap funding of Rs 19,041 crore ($2.57 billion). The Cabinet had last week approved the PPP model for the rollout of the BharatNet project. The telecom department will come out with the tender for the PPP mode rollout of BharatNet in 16 states in seven days, PTI reported.

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