Inmarsat wants India to ignore Jio’s demand to auction satellite spectrum

Inmarsat satellite spectrum
Inmarsat Alphaset satellite. Image courtesy Inmarsat.

Inmarsat has joined the ongoing debate around auctioning satellite spectrum in India. The British satellite operator’s chief executive officer Rajeev Suri said that there is no case to even consider auctioning spectrum for satcom or satellite communication services, joining ranks with Bharti Enterprises and OneWeb chairman Sunil Mittal, who had also urged India not to consider the move.

The latest comments by former Nokia CEO are in contrast with Reliance Jio president Mathew Oommen’s recent demand to auction such airwaves in the mmwave band by bringing similar rules for satellite services in the country as telecom operators.

“Auctioning satellite spectrum is a new thing I’ve heard but we’ve never seen this happen anywhere else, which is why, I agree 100% with Sunil (Mittal)…there is no need to reinvent the wheel in India as a lot of satellite services are done for safety of vessels around the world,” Suri was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Mittal had recently told media and investors that auctioning satellite spectrum in India would not be in tune with global norms. Mittal is currently advocating for policy changes in the country, which would help Bharti-backed OneWeb launch its satellite communications services by June next year.

“World over, there has never been any auction for satellite spectrum since this is not terrestrial spectrum and won’t be used in every part of the country but only in two satellite landing stations in specific locations. Spectrum for satellite operations had been around for 100 years and all satellites were already using it,” Mittal had said.

Inmarsat’s Suri said that satcom will play a crucial role in India as it could be used to provide communications services in areas that remain unconnected. He said that satcom is “good for India” and over time it will be able to reach at the right cost-point.

He said that spectrum in the 28 Ghz mmWave band will continue to be heavily used on all `Ka’ band satellites worldwide, which includes Inmarsat, and those of ISRO and other competitors.

On rivalry with telecom operators in India, Suri said that satcom and 5G technologies can co-exist. “…a good solution for all would be deploying satellite broadband in the 28 Ghz band and 5G services on 26 Ghz spectrum,” he told the publication.

Earlier this month, the Mukesh Ambani-led telecom operator said that satellite operators should offer services through the same licensing framework as telecom operators.

“The principle of ‘same service, same rules and same fees must apply to satellite communications service providers, and there is no case for zero regulation and (accessing) free spectrum since India is a spectrum-constrained nation…such a scenario could lead to “major revenue losses for the national exchequer,” Jio’s Oommen said at an industry event.

The competition in India’s nascent satcom space is gathering pace with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos-led Amazon and the Tata Group are also looking at their India foray. All players are awaiting the contours of the new spacecom policy and the powers of IN-SPACe, which is a central regulatory body under the Department of Space (DoS) mandated to attract private capital into the space sector.

The low earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator OneWeb, co-owned by Bharti Global and the UK government, has already received a letter of intent (LoI) from India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) against its application for the Global Mobile Personal Communication Services and Very Small Aperture Terminal (GMPCS/VSAT) license.

OneWeb will invest $30-40 million in setting up new ground stations in India.

Suri, during the interaction with the Indian publication, said that his company is awaiting “28 Ghz spectrum authorisation” from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to launch its Global Xpress (GX) high throughput satellite broadband services in India.  “…we’ve invested millions to build our GX broadband infrastructure in the country.”

Similar to OneWeb, Inmarsat will also operate on a B2B model by offering broadband-from-space services to aviation, maritime players, enterprises and governments.

Inmarsat already offers L-band narrowband services in India in partnership with state-run telco, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL).

Jio wants same telecom rules for satellite-based players in India

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