Entry of private satcom players may pose security challenges for India

satellite security challenges
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India’s defence secretary said that opening up the country’s satellite communications space to private players may pose national security challenges, and it will require regular “scrutiny” and “appropriate actions”.

Ajay Kumar, Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, said that space-based internet is becoming a reality in India, resulting in new business models. “…technology evolution may pose new security challenges, and there will be a continuous need to examine these challenges and take appropriate actions,” he was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

India had in 2018 created a Defence Space Agency (DSA), which acts as a dedicated organisation to look into space-related national security aspects.

The official said that the DSA is already working towards “enhancing” the country’s space capabilities that enable the Indian armed forces to meet defence capabilities.

Kumar’s comments come at a time when Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bharti’s OneWeb are firming up their plans to foray into the Indian market with their respective satellite communications services.

OneWeb, which is co-owned by Bharti Global and the UK government, is planning to launch high-speed satellite internet services in India by mid-2022.

SpaceX, which will also launch the commercial service by next year, is already taking pre-orders for the beta version of its Starlink satellite internet service in India.

In May last year, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that India was working on a new policy and regulatory structure to create a level-playing field for private satellite builders, launchers and other service providers for them to invest in the country under the new space communication policy.

The country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) recently said that the current licensing framework for satellite-based services has limitations concerning the proposed low bit-rate services. Last year, it requested the regulator to furnish recommendations on the Licensing framework to enable the provisioning of satellite-based low bit-rate applications for both commercial and captive usage.

Interestingly, SpaceX recently wrote to TRAI seeking a change in existing rules and regulations to allow satellite technology for broadband access in the country’s remote areas.

Following interest from various global players, India’s telecom regulator (TRAI) recently sought views of the satellite industry stakeholders on ways to make satellite communications affordable and to attract investment into the space.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a consultation paper seeking views on several issues, including licensing framework, ease of doing business, cost of satellite-based service and use cases, among others.

Global satellite players like SpaceX, Amazon, Hughes, Inmarsat, Telesat, and Viasat had previously urged the Indian government to allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) through the automatic route to set up Indian private companies for participation in satellite broadband space and help play a greater role in broadband proliferation.

Through their representative body, these players had then said that the commercial satellite broadband segment is attracting billions of dollars across the globe from other companies.

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