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Satcom – Critical to the success of the Digital India mission

The summit reflected on drivers for next-generation satcom applications and services and satellite broadcasting in a converged era.

Broadband India Forum (BIF) recently held its fifth International Annual Satcom Summit, India Satcom 2019, in New Delhi. The summit deliberated on significant issues pertinent to the sector including in-flight and maritime communications in India, connected aircraft, advancements in satellite technology with a special focus on India, as well as improving the ease-of-doing-business to enhance private sector participation and boost FDI into the sector. The summit also reflected on drivers for next-generation satcom applications and services and satellite broadcasting in a converged era.

The event was inaugurated by the Chief Guest Dr RS Sharma, chairman, TRAI, accompanied by special guests of honor, Dr K Sivan, secretary, Department of Space (DoS) and chairman, ISRO (via special video address); and Rakesh Sasibhushan, CMD, Antrix. The event was attended by senior government dignitaries from TRAI, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), DoS-ISRO, Antrix, ICRIER, as well as other leading government and private technology stakeholders, and leading industry experts from the satellite communications vertical from India and abroad. A white paper, titled Liberalizing satellite communications in India: Opportunities for enhanced economic growth, jointly developed by BIF and Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), was also released at the event.

In his address, Dr RS Sharma, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, shared that there is a huge cost difference in satellite bandwidth between India and the US. The reason for this is not inefficiency of technology. The reason is that India has not allowed the satcom sector to embrace market forces; because India has not implemented the Open Sky policy, which was part of the earlier telecom policy and is also a part of the NDCP 2018. There is, therefore, a need to implement the Open Sky policy both in letter and spirit and not be protectionist. India needs to be technology-agnostic, and embrace technologies that are robust, frugal, scalable, and ubiquitous to overcome current terrestrial challenges, such as constraints with the right-of-way approach being faced in the laying of fiber. Indian regulatory disadvantages need to be ironed out and the government, DoT, DoS, and TRAI are cognizant of the need to embrace new and emerging ICT technologies including satcom to override existing challenges, benefit multiple sectors of the economy, and finally fructify India’s digital dreams.

Dr K Sivan, secretary, DoS and chairman, ISRO, via a special video message, thanked the organizers for their efforts in organizing this conference and bringing various stakeholders together. He stated that this will provide a platform to discuss various aspects of the technologies, applications, and implementation. The people living in unreached and under-reached places should get access to these technologies in order to ensure inclusive growth.

Rakesh Sasibhushan, CMD, Antrix, in his address said that India is a space power that is recognized by the world today, and this puts Indian space companies at an advantageous position as far as global space commerce is concerned. While the commercial space industry is a significant contributor to the Western economy, in India, the domain is still in its infancy and a lot of work needs to be done for the continued growth of this critical sector. The demand for commercial satellite services is, however, increasing in India. The Indian space sector is a closed sector and a lot of work needs to be done to open it, beginning with the Space Act being put in place. There is a need to build a conducive atmosphere for the growth of private sector participation in the commercial space domain so that the country can harness a fair share of the global space commerce market.

TV Ramachandran, president, Broadband India Forum, asserted that satellite communication needs further mainstreaming across India to help reach Digital India mission goals – specifically to bolster terrestrial technologies, such as fiber and mobile towers, and make them ready for the advent of 5G. To this end, India’s satcom policy should also allow for a multiplicity of satcom technologies including new spectrum re-use, high-throughput satellites, as well as LEO and MEO satellite constellations, to provide ubiquitous, high-speed broadband access across every corner of India.

The present satcom policy in India needs to evolve further in light of the emerging requirements, led by 5G and IoT among other developments. The policy would need to create a happy balance between autonomy, security, and demand for services, and a calibrated approach would be required to enable this and, therefore, bridge the communication deficit. A future roadmap to enable this call for serious engagement from all stakeholders could create an ecosystem for significant investments.

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