Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel – India’s top two telecom operators – are at loggerheads again, albeit this time over regulating satellite-based broadband in the country.
Jio, which is India’s top telco by subscriber base, demanded similar rules for satellite services in the country, as telecom operators.
Airtel’s parent Bharti has backed OneWeb, which plans to launch satellite services in India. Airtel will be a partner of choice for OneWeb in India and its equity participation into the OneWeb India JV will be of the order of magnitude of $5-7 million only.
“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,” Mathew Oommen, president at Reliance Jio Infocomm said at an industry event.
The Mukesh Ambani-led telecom operator wants India to auction spectrum for satellite broadband service providers. It wants satellite operators to offer services through the same licensing framework.
Airtel and OneWeb chairman Sunil Mittal recently said that there was no case for auctioning satellite spectrum and said doing so, “would not be in tune with global norms”.
“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,” he recently told Indian media.
Oommen, who is responsible for Jio’s greenfield 4G network and 5G efforts, also said that satellite players need to abide by the same security requirements as telecom operators. The executive said that satellite-based broadband services are“prone to cybersecurity risks.
Oommen also urged India to bring same-service-same rules for satcom services in the country. “When satcom (satellite communications) technology providers offer affordable high gigabits of throughput across India by partnering with local entities, and conforms to the same service-same rules, and not compromising security requirements, we should 100% handhold and support them,” he said.
OneWeb, a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator co-owned by Bharti Global and the UK government, plans to offer satcom services in India from June 2022. The company will invest $30-40 million in setting up new ground stations in India.
Bharti Enterprises’ overseas subsidiary Bharti Global will invest an additional $500 million into OneWeb, taking the overall investment to $1 billion for a total 38.6% stake.
OneWeb has 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. Upon receiving the license, the company will be able to offer satellite-based backhaul through VSAT to telecom operators. The license will also pave the way for building two landing stations in the country.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos-led Amazon are also eyeing India’s satellite communications market. This happens at a time when Indian telecom operators are locking horns with satellite companies over allocation of spectrum in the 28 GHz band for satellite communications services.