Speaking at the ISpA launch event, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India's Remote Sensing Policy and Spacecom Policy are at the "final stages of finalization".
Spacecom Policy - Enabling Satcos to Deliver Connectivity from Space
At the event, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Communications, IT and Railways, called on the industry leaders for recommendations. He reassured the industry that the government will look to make satcom a "level playing field".
He said, "I request all of you
Talking with the PM, PJ Nath, CEO, Nelco, said, "the first thing we need is the spacecom policy. For the last 1 year, we have been talking about the spacecom policy. I'm sure a lot of work has happened on bringing the new policy to the country. We request you to bring the new spacecom policy quickly; that will really help the sector".
So far, the policy has not seen the light of day. However, for a year and a half, with the momentum shifting towards satcom, India has felt the need for a proper policy framework to better support the industry. Hence, along with industry stakeholders, the government has been working on the policy.
There are a lot of reasons why the policy has been taking a lot of time.
The Spectrum Problem
First, the problem of spectrum allocation. Vaishnaw had hinted at the "best practices" around the world; he was talking about how government around the world allocate spectrum to satcos and telcos. In India, telcos and satcos have been at odds over the mmWave spectrum; the government has so far taken no action.
This remains a big issue; the telcos are already using the mmWave spectrum allocated by DoT in the ongoing 5G Trials. Though telcos remain hopeful that the government will bring the spectrum to the table, the strong resistance offered by the satcom industry has left telcos in doubt. The telcos have asked DoT to revise the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP-2021). COAI said that DoT should include these vital mmWave band airwaves and it hopes that it will give them clarity going in the 5G trials.
The telcos have sought an amicable solution to this problem; the industry has repeatedly called on the government to divide the spectrum among satcos and telcos, auctioning a large chunk of that spectrum. However, satcos have resisted, and they have a precedent - the band was only used by satellites for a long time.
So far, however, the government has only "earmarked" the mid-band spectrum in the 3.3-3.6 GHz range for 5G in India. As Vaishnaw had said, satcom and telecom are very interconnected industries, and it therefore he had sought recommendations from the industry leaders.
Checks and Balances in Satcom
The next important aspect of the satcom space will be the use cases. Since the technology is new and exciting, the government has been busy looking for ways to use it. Of course, defence would be one of the first applications; the presence of the CDS General Bipin Rawat at the ISpA event showed that. However, delivering connectivity has always been easier said than done, and delivering it from space will be even more tricky.
However, the government has looked to make it easier for companies to play in the satcom market. For starters, it has allowed telcos to deliver telecom backhaul to the companies. This move has not only allowed telcos to use satcom capacities better but also has led to a B2B opportunity for satcos.
Though this is just the start here; the complete policy will include this, of course, while also ensuring that companies have the best framework to start working on satcom in India. For that, the government needs to come good on its word, making India's satcom space a "level playing field".
What Should Spacecom Policy NOT Have?
The telecom sector should serve as a great example to the government in what not to do when making policy for a sector that largely consists of private players. First, the government will need to consider every single levy that it charges. Here, too, it has taken an important step in doing so; for VSAT carriers, it has reduced the spectrum usage charge from 4% to 1%.
So, the government has to see that it does not create a policy to make satcom a cash cow; it needs to support satcom from the get go, and the revenue can come when it becomes an established industry.
Next, the government also needs to avoid restricting the pricing of the products and services in any way.
When Will the Spacecom Policy Come, Though?
As the PM had said yesterday, the work has almost been finished on it. However, with DoT prioritizing 5G at the moment in order to get the spectrum auction calendar out, it will remain a challenge to actually close the satcom policy within 2021.
However, Starlink and OneWeb are planning commercial launches within the next 2-3 quarters. Therefore, India needs to bring a solid policy framework sooner than later.