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Bharti Group chairman Sunil Mittal says auction not needed for satcom spectrum

Bharti Group chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal has thrown his weight behind technology majors like Google and Amazon saying satellite broadband spectrum should not be allocated through auctions but given administratively.

In an interaction with FE, Mittal said such spectrum has not been auctioned anywhere in the world as it is required only at select places unlike terrestrial airwaves which are needed everywhere. This is the first time Bharti has taken a categorical position on the mode of allocation of satellite broadband spectrum. Although Jio and Vodafone Idea have batted for auction of this spectrum, in their response to a consultation paper floated by Trai, Bharti had maintained silence on the subject.

“There is probably lack of understanding …auction what?.. this is going to be a ground station in let’s say 50 sq km of area, so what you want to auction in a village for 50 sq km…what auction will you do. People do not understand, this is not terrestrial spectrum being used, this is not being used in all parts of the country, this will only be used in two landing stations,” Mittal said.

He also said that world over there has never been an auction for satellite spectrum. “It’s not new, spectrum for satellites has been out there for 100 years and all the GEO/MEO satellites are already using it,” Mittal added.

Broadband India Forum, an association of technology players like Google, Hughes, etc, had earlier voiced its opposition to auctioning arguing that spectrum for Satcom is not exclusive to an operator as is the case with terrestrial spectrum used for mobile services, so auctioning makes no sense.

“World over, satellite spectrum is authorised for ‘a right-to-use’ by all administrations everywhere and is allocated only by administrative process at charges essentially covering the cost of administration. Unlike terrestrial spectrum, satellite spectrum is never exclusively assigned to the operator but coordinated internationally and shared among multiple operators for different orbital slots and all types of satellites. Thus, the terrestrial concept of exclusivity does not apply and auctioning therefore not applicable,” Broadband India Forum (BIF) president, TV Ramachandran had told FE.

Satellite communication (Satcom) services is set to gain traction in near future with major global tech majors like SpaceX, Amazon evincing interest in the Indian market. Bharti Enterprises backed satellite communications company OneWeb too plans to launch pan-India services by May next year. OneWeb has already applied for statutory approvals to the department of telecommunications and department of space and expects to get a go-ahead in a month.

While the licence can be granted to the company by the DoT anytime, the allocation of spectrum is likely to be done only once Trai and the government decide whether the airwaves need to be auctioned or allocated administratively.

OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications company, has successfully released another 36 satellites to mark the completion of its ‘Five to 50’ mission. With this major milestone, the company is on way to deliver connectivity across the United Kingdom, Canada, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, and the Arctic Region.

Asked about India plans for OneWeb, Mittal said the company will be able to sell most of the capacity in one year. “The contracts will be with mobile operators, defence authorities, forest department, railways, shipping agencies, lots of discussions are currently underway, market remains big,” Mittal said.

The pricing for satellite services are bound to be expensive and that’s why, OneWeb is not looking for millions of customers. As part of its strategy, OneWeb will not serve retail customers directly but through partnerships with mobile operators.

“Our main customers will be operators but we will sell ourselves to big enterprises… there will be mix and match but we are not going to retail customers that is only led by mobile operators. Our design of network is such that we are only serving B2B and we have no ambitions to sell directly to customers,” Mittal said allaying fears among telcos that satcom services will replace mobile telephony.Mittal said Airtel being part of Bharti Group won’t be the only beneficiary. “This (partnership) is open to all operators in the country, we would love to give it to Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea,” he added. MSN

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