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Need to examine space-based Internet new business models, Ajay Kumar

New business models and technological evolutions such as the satellite-based communications or SatCom may pose national security challenges, and there is a need for a regular scrutiny and taking suitable actions, a senior government official said.

“Space-based Internet is increasingly becoming a reality. New models of business and technology evolution may pose new security challenges and there will be a continuous need to examine these challenges and take appropriate actions,” Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Defence.

Comments from the top bureaucrat have come following the increased activity in the satellite communications or SatCom space with billionaire Elon Musk-headed Starlink’s aggressive plans to offer space Internet services worldwide, and Bharti Global’s stake buy in the UK’s OneWeb.

SpaceX-owned Starlink’s low latency broadband offering is touted to be based on a range of small Internet low-earth orbit or LEO satellites closer to the earth’s surface.

The US-based company has also offered Indian users pre-book service plans at a refundable fee of $99 (nearly Rs 7,300), and is likely to foray into the Indian market by 2022.

Sunil Mittal-driven Bharti Global has too made a headway in bringing satellite-based data services after acquiring a 45% stake in OneWeb, a UK-based firm that brings a constellation of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites to deliver affordable Internet services.

Bharti’s telecom arm that fiercely competes with Reliance Jio, aims to use OneWeb’s platform to bridge the digital divide by providing low latency, high-speed broadband access to India’s rural and remote regions.

Early this year, Bharti Airtel in its ambitious satellite broadband initiative, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Nettle Infrastructure Investments, acquired 100% stake in OneWeb India Communications, for an undisclosed sum.

Last year, Boris Johnson-headed UK government too strategically invested $500 million in OneWeb, a consortium led by Bharti Global.”UK’s acquisition of OneWeb is an example of how the space industry can be expected to move in future,” Kumar said.

The move by one of the India’s top telecom player that has a presence in Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka markets, has been closely followed by French Eutelsat Communications’ investment of $550 million in OneWeb last month after Japanese conglomerate SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems in January spent $400 million in the UK-based company.

Experts, however, caution against payloads carried by foreign-origin satellites and stressed upon the need for a close watch.

Back in 2018, India had created a Defence Space Agency (DSA) which, according to Kumar, acts as a dedicated organisation to look into space-related national security aspects, and added that that the mandate for tri-service organisation is clearly defined.

“It (DSA) is in process of enhancing India’s space capabilities including the payloads and other capabilities that Indian armed forces need to meet defence capabilities of the country,” the top official added.

In March 2019, India has successfully conducted an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) test on a target satellite present in a low-earth orbit to demonstrate the country’s anti-satellite preparedness. Koliasa

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