Telecommunications is like transport infrastructure—one needs airplanes, trains, and automobiles—and in a developing country like India, even the bullock carts. There is always a percentage of population that remains unserved or underserved because cost economics do not permit ubiquitous coverage. Even in a most wired country like the USA, there are 15 million homes that are beyond the reach of terrestrial communication infrastructure, simply because the economics fail.
Thanks to telecom liberalization, India got the advantage of satellite communication services early in 1995 when even the terrestrial infrastructure was mostly missing or in a dilapidated state. In the late nineties, even inter-metro connectivity was through satellite networks and a lot of government initiatives in stock markets, private banks, and manufacturing units that were remotely located for tax breaks, actually got energized and survived due to satellite networks.
Satellite networks played a pivotal cornerstone role in India’s liberalization process and will continue to play a key role in building the Digital India of our dream.
Hughes did play a significant role across India’s industries and the government in building the critical satellite networks—the first ERP networks for large multinationals, anywhere banking for private sector banks, digital cinema distribution in entire country, online interactive premium education programs across cities, the financial network of the RBI, countrywide police network of all stations, railway freight operation and information systems, and so on.
Unlike terrestrial link operators, Hughes always went beyond ‘connectivity,’ running these as managed networks. Today, Hughes’managed network services are deployed at more than 150,000 locations across India with multimedia ‘Optimized Networks’ (HughesON), covering wired and wireless, including 3G/4G, managing traffic, priorities, congestion, applications, faults and capacity for mission-critical applications in banking, oil, retail, telecom infrastructure, and rural and BharatNet panchayat sectors.
India suffered severely due to the absence of new satellite technologies in the country for more than 20 years. While cellular microwaves came in with a lag of 3–4 years, cellular satellite system is yet to be available commercially in the country. The first frequency re-use cellular satellite system was introduced in the USA as Spaceway, way back in 2000.
With new generation cellular satellite technologies such as High Throughput Satellites (HTS), the cost of manufacturing these satellites have come down to USD one million per gigabit (USD 500 million for 550 Gbps satellites) whereas conventional bend pipe satellites used by Indian Department of Space (DoS) cost approximately USD 60 million while giving about only 2 Gbps capacity (USD 120 million per gigabit).
Thus, the cost to consumer becomes very high. The DoS has now built some such multibeam satellites but even then the cost and scale (12 GBps capacity of GSAT-11) is no match for the cost per Gbps of modern HTS satellites.
Today, thanks to very low cost of satellite bandwidth, more than two million USA homes are connected through satellite broadband, at rates comparable with alternate terrestrial services.
Broadband using HTS systems have now spread to Mexico, Canada, most of the countries in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, Australia, and even far-east Asian countries like Thailand. In India, it is still awaited on commercial scale where the opportunity for such services in rural broadband, SME, and public Wi-Fi networks is immense.
The world, including India, will also see the advent of low-earth satellite constellations like One-Web, Amazon, and Telesat Canada in a very near future, as early as 2021. These satellites, apart from being HTS, also add the huge advantage of low latency in the networks and provide ubiquitous coverage over land, mountains, and seas.
HTS LEO satellites will compete even more strongly with terrestrial alternatives on performance and user costs, giving the flexibility of ubiquitous coverage, roaming, and mobility, with no dark spots! Hope India adapts to such innovations early, not to repeat the missed opportunities in HTS.
The future is Digital India, and both 5G and HTS satellites will be the key drivers to connect the unconnected economies. We at Hughes hope to bring in next generation managed services with SD-WAN through both these key transport mediums, as we understand this medium the best. We foresee a ten-fold increase in low-cost satellite connectivity in India in next five years, thanks to the HTS and LEO satellite constellations.
– Partho Banerjee.
— The author is President and MD, Hughes Communications India Ltd.