Starlink rival OneWeb gets approval to launch satellite broadband services in India

OneWeb India, the local subsidiary of low-earth orbit operator Eutelsat OneWeb, has received the necessary approval from the country’s newly created space regulatory body to launch its commercial satellite broadband services in the country in South Asia.

The company said on Tuesday that it is the first organization to receive permission from the nodal agency to launch satellite broadband services in the world’s second largest internet user market – ahead of SpaceX’s Starlink and Reliance’s JioSpaceFiber. The launch is subject to spectrum allocation by the Indian government, however, which has not yet happened.

Earlier this month, OneWeb and JioSpaceFiber received licenses from the Indian telecom ministry, Department of Telecommunications, to provide broadband services through satellite connectivity in the country. OneWeb has received in-principle approval to set up two gateways – in the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu – with the aim of providing high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity to customers. across India when its services are launched.

Bharti Airtel, which still owns more than a fifth of OneWeb and is India’s second-largest wireless network provider, is relying on satellite-beamed internet to reduce data costs in the country, a top executive said in JP Morgan’s summit last month.

OneWeb now has a full low-earth orbit (LEO) constellation running and by January 24, it is expected to enjoy global coverage including oceans and mountains. Akhil Gupta, vice chairman of Bharti Enterprises, said that he believes that satellites will be complementary to terrestrial connections and that every smartphone will have an in-built satellite connection in the medium-term that will help operators reduce costs per gigabytes.

“We are pleased to have received the green light from the Indian space regulator to launch Eutelsat OneWeb’s commercial satellite broadband service in India,” said the chairman and vice president of the Bharti Group (co-chair) of the board of directors of Eutelsat Group, Sunil Bharti Mittal, in a prepared statement. “Eutelsat OneWeb is ready to be deployed as soon as it receives the final approval of the spectrum to launch commercial services.”

The latest development follows Eutelsat Communications completing an all-part $3.4 billion deal with OneWeb, which was announced in July last year.

Like Eutelsat OneWeb, Reliance wants to offer satellite-based broadband services in the world’s most populous countries. The company showcased its services last month and claimed it would be available “at the cheapest price” to take on the competition and reach the masses. However, neither Jio nor OneWeb has revealed the exact pricing details of their satellite-based broadband internet services.

SpaceX’s Starlink is also in the race to launch satellite broadband services in India. The company registered its local business in India in late 2021 and hired a top executive in the country. However, it did not receive the license to operate in the South Asian market.

Similarly, Amazon is eyeing India’s large internet population to expand its Project Kuiper. TechCrunch understands that the company hired a local executive in January to join discussions and help sketch out local launch plans.

Satellite companies are awaiting the greenlight from the government to start their satellite-based broadband services in the country. Sources familiar with the development told TechCrunch that while satellite broadband players are seeking administrative allocations to launch their services in the country, telcos are seeking spectrum auctions.

India’s space race

The move by the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) adds to the growing competition in the Asian space industry. China, now second only to the US in space efforts, has launched 34% of total orbital launches in the past five years, Macquarie analysts wrote in a report this month.

India’s space sector has historically been primarily driven by the government, through the national space agency, ISRO. Private companies play a supporting role as vendors and suppliers for government-led space initiatives. India’s space budget, estimated at $2 billion, is small compared to the United States, China, and Japan, resulting in India holding an estimated 2% market share in the global space economy, according to Macquarie.

To increase the growth of the domestic space industry and increase its global presence, the Indian government introduced the Indian Space Policy in April 2023. This policy is a strategic move to encourage private sector participation in various activities. relating to space, including design. , operation, and infrastructure development for space objects. The policy outlines roles for four key entities:

  • InSPACe is tasked with promoting and sanctioning space activities within India.
  • The Department of Space (DOS) serves as the central department for policy implementation.
  • New Space India Limited (NSIL) is charged with commercializing space technologies and platforms developed through public infrastructure.
  • ISRO will now mainly concentrate on research and development of new technologies and applications in space.

New Delhi’s recent push, including the creation of its own global navigation satellite system NavIC, and ISRO’s developments, have prompted investors to see an opportunity to support local companies.

“While India remains in the very early stages of its domestic space industry, we believe there are already opportunities in satellite applications,” Macquarie wrote. “The rapidly growing digital map market applies satellite positioning technology for a variety of applications.”

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