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

OneWeb satellite broadband
Image by Andrey Suslov | Bigstockphoto

OneWeb and US-based Viasat Inc have reportedly sought approvals to provide high-speed satellite broadband services in India. While OneWeb has applied for a global mobile personal communication system (GMPCS) licence with the country’s telecom department (DoT), Viasat has sought permission to use two of its Ka-band ViaSat-3 satellites to serve India.

Viasat’s Ka-band ViaSat-3 satellites are currently under construction.

According to a report by India’s Financial Express, the Bharti Enterprises-backed company may offer “partial service”  by the end of this year and can have 24×7 service availability by June 2022 upon the completion of the Leo satellite constellation, India and the entire South Asia, including Indian Ocean.

OneWeb, which marked its entry into satellite business in November 2020, has a plan to launch 648 low earth orbit (Leo) satellites by June 2022 to construct a global satellite constellation.

OneWeb’s 238 Leo satellites are currently operational and 36 more will be launched by this month end.

“OneWeb is in advance preparations to start laying the required infrastructure like ground stations in India to enable services,” a company source was quoted as saying by the Financial Express.

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.

Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are reportedly pushing the DoT to auction half of the spectrum in the 28GHz band for 5G services. Bharti Airtel, which is also owned by Bharti Enterprises, hasn’t taken a firm stand on the issue.

Spectrum in the 27.5 GHz to 29.5 GHz band is used exclusively by satellite players like OneWeb but is also considered super-efficient for 5G.

A Viasat spokesperson told the Economic Times that the company’s satellites will run on the 28 GHz band and continued access to the full  28 GHz portion of the Ka-band for satellite broadband is critical to connecting individuals left on the wrong side of the digital divide in India,

“We have filed applications with the Indian government and relevant agencies, seeking authority to use two of our Ka-band ViaSat-3 satellites…we are optimistic the government will retain the 28 GHz band for bringing these satellite broadband solutions,” the Viasat’s spokesperson told the publication.

India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) hasn’t yet published its plan for spectrum allocation in the 28GHz band. The Financial Express report added that the department can grant a license to OneWeb, but spectrum allocation can only be done after recommendations by the telecom regulator, TRAI.

“…the allocation of spectrum is likely to be done only once the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the government decide whether the airwaves need to be auctioned or allocated administratively,” people familiar with the matter told the publication.

India’s telecom regulator, TRAI, recently sought views of the satellite industry stakeholders on ways to make satellite communications affordable and to attract investment in space. As per the TRAI, the cost of satellite-based services is on the higher side in the country, because it has not been widely adopted by end-users.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) already said that the current licensing framework of DoT, for satellite based services, such as OneWeb, has limitations with respect to the proposed satellite based low bit-rate services.

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