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Elon Musk's Starlink vs Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Jio: Stiff fight over India's internet market

Both are competing for the Indian internet market. To introduce satellite broadband services in India, competition for spectrum distribution.

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Ayushi Singh
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Both are competing for the Indian internet market. For the right to introduce satellite broadband services in India, Starlink and Jio are in competition for spectrum distribution.

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The world's richest man, Elon Musk, is keen to bring his Starlink satellite broadband to India, but Mukesh Ambani, who owns Reliance Jio, the largest telecom company in India, and is the richest man in Asia, is putting up a fierce fight against him.

Musk even expressed his desire to launch Starlink in India during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Indian PM's recent visit to the United States. Musk noted that Starlink "can be incredibly helpful" in outlying communities lacking high-speed services or internet access.

What he omitted to mention is that Starlink and Ambani's Reliance disagree over how the government distributes satellite broadband spectrum, setting up a conflict between two of the richest men in the world over satellite services in the country with the largest population.

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Both are competing for the Indian internet market. For the right to introduce satellite broadband services in India, Starlink and Jio are in competition for spectrum distribution. In order to provide a level playing field for domestic and international companies in the traditional telecom sector, Ambani insists on an auction while Musk pushes for licencing.

According to a global trend, Starlink is urging India to simply award licences rather than auction the spectrum, arguing that it is a natural resource that should be shared by businesses. Geographical limitations imposed by an auction may increase expenses, it stated in corporate communications that the Indian government made public last month.

Reliance disagrees and has demanded an auction in a public filing to the government, arguing that there must be an auction to create a level playing field because foreign satellite service providers might supply voice and data services and compete with established telecom firms.

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According to Deloitte, the market for satellite broadband services in India will expand 36% annually to reach $1.9 billion by 2030.

According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data, as on 31st March, 2023, Wired Broadband subscribers of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd were 8.33 million and Wireless Broadband subscribers 430.23 million. Of the total 839.33 million broadband subscribers at the end of March-23, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd stood at 438.56 million. Reliance Jio held 51.80% Service Provider-wise Market Share of Broadband (wired + wireless) Services as on 31st March, 2023. Over 30% market share makes Reliance Jio the industry leader in India.

Starlink claims to have 1.5 million active users of their low-latency broadband services and is already authorized in 84 administrations worldwide. In 2024, Amazon intends to launch its first batch of satellites.

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Foreign satellite internet companies will undoubtedly be concerned that an Indian auction will increase the probability that other countries will do the same, driving up costs and investments.

According to India's Koan Advisory, of the 64 submissions from businesses, industry associations, and others to the country's public consultation on satellite spectrum, 48 were in favour of licencing, 12 were in favor of an auction, and the remaining two were neutral.

It would be interesting to watch which course of action the Indian government ultimately chooses while it continues to weigh its choices.

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