Starlink, Elon Musk’s company that provides satellite internet services, is set to get a licence to start operating in India after clearing regulatory hurdles. The services are expected to benefit people living in rural and remote areas.
Starlink is expected to receive approval from the Indian government this week after it clarifies its shareholding pattern to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) may then issue a letter of intent to Starlink.
The department is preparing a note which will be sent to telecom secretary Neeraj Mittal and minister of communications Ashwani Vaishnav for their approval. Once they give their nods, the department’s Satellite Communications Wing will issue the approval to Musk’s company.
Starlink applied for a global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) licence in 2022. With this, it will become the third company – after Jio Satellite Communications and OneWeb – to get this licence.
However, the DoT nod will not allow it to start providing the satellite-based broadband service immediately. Starlink will also need approval from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre to set up earth stations.
Even after getting all these approvals Starlink, OneWeb, and Jio’s satellite arm will have to wait for DoT to allot them spectrum to start offering the service. Amazon’s satcom arm – Project Kuiper – is also seeking a GMPCS licence in India.
Past issues in India
In 2021, Starlink faced issues with the Indian government for accepting pre-orders for its terminals at a nominal fee. Although the company planned to conduct trials for its satcom services in India, they did not come to fruition because the government directed Starlink to refund the fees, which were collected without necessary permissions to operate in India.
After this, Sanjay Bhargava, the head of Starlink’s India operations, resigned.
Starlink also submitted applications to the DoT in 2022 to conduct trials with a large number of user terminals and gateway stations for purposes including technology and capability demonstration, product stabilisation, and ecosystem development. However, the trials were not allowed.
Who will benefit from Starlink’s services in India?
Satellite communication, or satcom, can provide broadband speeds comparable to 4G, which is up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps), but not 5G, which is up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps).
Starlink users typically experience download speeds between 25 and 220 Mbps, with a majority of users experiencing speeds of over 100 Mbps. Upload speeds are typically between 5 and 20 Mbps, according to its website. This technology is beneficial for consumers in remote areas that can’t be reached by traditional internet infrastructure such as towers or optical fibre.
One of the main advantages of satellite communication is that installation and deployment are quick and simple compared to traditional terrestrial networks.
Starlink has suggested that satellite broadband connections are especially beneficial for schools and healthcare facilities. The company may initially consider providing internet services directly to customers but may also explore the enterprise segment. OneWeb is expected to focus more on the B2B segment.
Starlink service cost in India
The cost of Starlink’s service in India is currently unknown. However, according to details shared by the company’s former India head, the cost in the first year might be about Rs 1,58,000. The service cost will be Rs 1,15,000 from the second year including a 30 percent tax, since Starlink’s equipment is a one-time purchase. The user equipment’s base price is expected to be Rs 37,400, along with Rs 7,425 per month for services.
Satellite communication in India is currently in the early stages, but it has vast potential, especially in rural and remote regions. According to a report by EY-ISpA, India’s space economy is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent to $13 billion by 2025.
Starlink’s global operations
Satellite internet services are provided mainly through single geostationary satellites that orbit the earth at a distance of 35,786 km. However, this results in a high round-trip data time between the user and the satellite, also known as latency. This high latency makes it difficult to support high data rate activities such as streaming, video calls, and online gaming.
Starlink operates over 5,000 active satellites that transmit the internet with relatively low latency. The company boasts of being the world’s largest and the first satellite constellation to use low-earth orbit to deliver broadband internet that supports online gaming, video calls, streaming, and other similar activities.
Starlink is a constellation of thousands of satellites that orbit the planet much closer to earth, at about 550 km, and cover the entire globe. Because Starlink satellites are in a low orbit, latency is significantly lower — around 25 ms vs 600+ ms, as per the company’s website.
SpaceX is the only satellite operator able to launch its satellites as needed. With frequent, low-cost launches, Starlink claims its satellites are constantly updated with the newest technology. MoneyControl