Satellite Communication Can Play An Active Role in Providing High-Speed Access to Gram Panchayats

VSAT industry has grown over the past few years. Ten years back, the industry was installing 10 thousand VSATs per annum. Today, they have installed 40 thousand VSATs per annum. So the VSAT industry has also benefitted from the growing need for broadband and connectivity in the Enterprise and Government sectors. In an exclusive conversation with Voice&Data, Shivaji Chatterjee, SVP, Enterprise Business, Hughes Communications India, talks about the challenges that VSAT faces in India, the growth potential in the industry market, the role of VSAT in Digital India. Excerpts:

Q. In terms of policies, what are the challenges that VSAT technology faces in India?

The opening up of the Indian market to get access to High Throughput Satellites and Ka-band spectrum is one of the key policy changes that is impeding the growth of VSAT services in India.

Another key area for growth of the global VSAT industry has been the use of satcom on the move – in the air, on the sea, and on land. However, Indian regulations have not yet permitted the use of satcom on the move commercially. However, this is about to change with the policy announcement expected very shortly on permitting WiFi through satcom on flights and on ships in India.

There has been renewed interest in VSAT as the third pillar of the telecom ecosystem, along with terrestrial broadband and WiFi in terms of accelerating the rollout of the Digital India Mission. Since the regulations permit this, the need of the hour is to open up the sector and allow the private sector to boost SatCom capacity to help India Inc as well as accelerate e-governance initiatives of the government.

Think-tanks such as the Broadband India Forum (BIF) and regulators such as TRAI believe that the communications landscape will improve with more SatCom deployment. In fact, BIF has suggested that the telecom department (DoT) and the regulator need to work together with the Department of Space (DoS) for commercial satellite communications to provide high-speed broadband connectivity in remote and rural parts of the country.

 Q. What kind of growth do you see in the industry market?

With the increasing customer base and growing number of applications on the network, the demand for bandwidth is growing very fast. We see a 15-20% revenue growth in bandwidth services for the industry, provided that high-throughput satellite capacity is made available to the industry in the near future. Additionally, new services around mobility, in-flight connectivity, and retail broadband services will continue to drive prospects for VSAT industry in India, supplementing the growth from the Enterprise and Government verticals.

There is also constant transformation occurring in the satellite communications industry today, which is leading to a surge in demand for connectivity, deployment of rural telecommunications, and distance learning programs across India.

As a result, satellite operators are rapidly responding by launching massive amounts of new bandwidth – a number that is expected to increase tenfold by 2025. This, in turn, will revolutionize the economics of satellite service to be on par with, and even complement, terrestrial and wireless networks.

Q. What are the areas or applications do you see VSAT deployment to take place?

We see strong opportunities developing especially with the Government’s focus on driving Digital India initiatives, especially in the context of connecting villages with high-speed broadband.

The Ministry of Petroleum has mandated automation across all the retail petrol pumps in the country. India has over 60,000 petrol pumps – which has run by the oil marketing companies like IOCL, HPCL, BPCL, Reliance, Nayara, and Shell. They have all chosen VSAT as their connectivity medium of choice for this massive retail automation project – with the deployment of over 40,000 VSATs to take place in 2018 and 2019.

We also expect large satellite network requirements in government, defense and mobile backhaul segments that will bring a further boost to the growth of VSAT deployment at large. With the possible introduction of High Throughput Satellites (HTS), it is expected to bring in a significant impetus to the VSAT industry as this will increase the support for varied applications and bring down the cost barriers – permitting mass rollout of satellite broadband to the SME, retail and consumer sectors.

Q. What role can VSAT play in Digital India especially for providing high-quality Broadband in every corner of the country?

Providing reliable broadband connectivity is one of the key backbones of the Digital India project, which aims at providing connectivity to unconnected. While the government is making the efforts, connecting and empowering a population of 1.3 billion people with internet access is a humongous task and therefore, it requires the government and private sector to work alongside.

I believe satellite communication can play an active role in providing high-speed access to gram panchayats for the BharatNet program, in rural mobile coverage over satellite, eGovernance services like MNREGA, Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) to remote areas where terrestrial connectivity cannot reach.

We at Hughes see this as a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the nation’s development. Going forward, we remain committed to making further investments in setting and establishing high throughput communications satellites. There is a large un-served and under-served market where broadband is not available on conventional terrestrial technologies. Satellites can serve these regions to deliver ubiquitous broadband coverage nationwide. With our proven prowess, we ensure end-to-end connectivity using VSAT technology, across sectors including banking, e-governance, e-learning, healthcare and are excited to drive high-speed satellite broadband to underserved remote communities across the country.

Q. There is a perception that VSAT is an expensive solution. What is your view on the same?

Because of regulatory hurdles, India has lagged behind in establishing high throughput satellites, which has resulted in the price of the capacity bandwidth is higher and hence the end user pricing not being as attractive as other telecom media. Therefore, if we look at pricing in India, it’s the opposite as compared to other countries where high throughput satellites are available, such as USA where VSAT prices are almost at par with terrestrial broadband.

However, even today, for thin-route applications, for reliable backup connectivity and for broadcast/multicast applications, VSAT is far and away the most cost-effective solution across the telecom industry.

Q. What is so special about ‘Hughes On’ solution?

HughesON is special as it provides an alternate form of wide area network connectivity to enterprises. Currently, the forms of wide area connectivity are terrestrial, RF and VSAT. HughesON presents a fourth form of connectivity option.

HughesON uniquely leverages the ever-growing cellular infrastructure in the country, across multiple different cellular operators, in both 3G and 4G access, and provides an enterprise-grade, SLA-driven managed network service. It is unique in the fact that it uses access across different cellular networks and provides an SLA-driven managed service to the enterprise.

HughesON has been a runaway success since its launch with many customers signed on for over 10,000 sites across a plethora of industry verticals like banking, organized retail, oil and gas, quick service restaurants, ATM service providers and so on.

With the focus on cloud-centric application architecture and cellular networks providing ubiquitous 4G coverage in most parts of the country and 5G to follow in two years’ time, HughesON provides a unique, future-ready solution that will only get stronger and stronger.

Q. What is your plan for 2018?

Globally we have a mandate to be the leading broadband satellite service provider in the world and for the last 10-15 years, we have succeeded in realizing this vision all over the world. In India, we see that vision translating a lot more into an opportunity because most of the terrestrial networks are relatively limited and not as reliable, and beyond that it’s wireless- either through satellite or cellular- which is really providing a reach.

We are committed and willing to invest in the country to set up communication satellite systems that could not just add to the connectivity but also help in areas such as banking, education, healthcare, defense, and oil and gas, by reducing the cost of high-speed broadband Internet connectivity.

In 2018, we plan to continue our growth in key enterprise segments like banking, oil and gas; help realise the ‘Digital India’ mission of the Government; deploy various strategic networks for the Defense sector and foray into the new, exciting space of satellite mobility on air and water. It is indeed a very exciting year for us.

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