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Starlink India Chief: Satcom Policy must Focus on Access

Starlink India head Sanjay Bhargava recently said that the upcoming satcom policy should focus more on delivering access to more and more people.

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Starlink India head Sanjay Bhargava recently said that the upcoming satcom policy should focus more on delivering access to more people rather than the pricing.

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Spacecom Policy Key to Satcom Success

Talking with a local TV channel, Bhargava said, "as satellite broadband can improve and save lives in India’s remote regions, the forthcoming satcom policy must focus more on access and less on prices".

He further explained the pricing of LEO-based satcom services. Bhargava said that it consists of “large numbers of such satellites move very fast to cover the earth”, making it “at least 7-8 times more expensive than terrestrial broadband", especially since the software requirements for managing such operations are difficult. However, with more access come economies of scale, which will automatically drive prices down.

For now, SpaceX has registered a Starlink India unit, named Starlink Satellite Communications Pvt Ltd (SSCPL). Via this entity, SpaceX will apply for licenses required for satcom services. However, OneWeb has already applied for licenses and therefore is a proverbial step ahead. Both the companies have set a target of June 2022 to launch commercial services in India.

Bhargava added, "If we can show the world that there can be around 1 million points in India, where each point can pay $1,000 per year for satellite broadband, then the market will be $1 billion in annual revenue"

He also expressed hope that India will have its very own LEO constellation, delivering connectivity strategically to the country. "India is very good in space (segment) with a lot of talent and if it can attract capital, it is only a matter of time before we will have a fully Indian satellite constellation", said the Starlink India chief.

What's Up With the Spacecom Policy?

Speaking at an event in October, PM Modi said that India’s Spacecom Policy has reached “final stages of finalization”. However, the government needs to proceed with cognizance of current issues while creating the policy.

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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%. Therefore, 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. This was echoed by Bhargava in his comments when he said that the government needs to focus on access. If needed, the government can provide some sort of subsidy for early adopters to facilitate satcom players.

The work has almost finished on the satcom policy. 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.

India's Satcom Industry - Nascent, but Sky's the Limit

India has targets to achieve – becoming a trillion-dollar digital economy is one of them. Satcom in India might be the solution to India’s deep-rooted connectivity issues. As such, multiple satcom players are poised to capture the market with Starlink and OneWeb being the leaders.

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India needs satcom, now more than ever. And likewise, satellite makers need India, to flourish in an industry that might one day evolve into an interplanetary network. Satellite internet remains uncharted territory for India. The concept is radical, and the policy framework is still a work in progress.

However, given the sheer size of the Indian telecom market – 1.2 billion strong, satcom companies just can’t let the opportunity pass. India should use this attraction as a factor to lower user terminal costs – even provide subsidies, as Germany did. Early market capture can benefit the companies, and the government’s nudge can allow for better overall implementation in the country.

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