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Indian telcos raise concerns after Musk indicated Starlink satellite foray

SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s recent tweet indicating availability of Starlink’s internet service in India next year has forced Indian telecom operators to reach out to the country’s Department of Space to block any possible backdoor entry of satellite communications operators.

Musk’s Starlink plans to have a constellation of 40,000 low-orbit satellites. It recently started offering high-speed internet in the US as part of its beta launch phase.

Telcos, through their representative body, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), also urged the department to ensure a level-playing field in the country’s satellite broadband space. They said that the non-government private entities (NGPE), recently permitted by the government to establish space systems to provide communication services, must be subjected to a similar licensing regime as telecom service providers.

In a letter to the Department of Space, the COAI said that NGPEs must acquire spectrum through auctions like other telecom operators do in the country.

The Indian Space Research Organisation last month (ISRO), in its draft Spacecom Policy, recommended that NGPEs can get spectrum through an authorisation by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) by paying a nominal price.

Responding to the draft Spacecom Policy, the telco body said that the telecom department is the “custodian of the entire spectrum”, thereby an NGPE should take a telecom licence from it and acquire spectrum in a transparent manner before starting services making satellite filings to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

In its letter, the COAI, which represents telcos like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, also warned the telecom department the international satellite lobby may establish a number of NGPEs to come up with an unjustified number of paper satellite filings, disproportionate to the Indian market demands and begin claiming protection from the terrestrial use of millimetre wave bands identified for IMT services, thereby securing a license for spectrum is necessary.

Additionally, the body urged the Department of Space and the Department of Telecommunications to bring stringent criterion and control on private satellite filings.

India recently opened up Indian’s space sector and is aiming to create a level playing field for private satellite builders, satellite launchers and space-based service providers to invest aggressively in India.

Global satellite players had earlier this year urged the Indian government to allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) through the automatic route to set up Indian private companies for participation in satellite broadband space and help play a greater role in broadband proliferation.

Bharti Enterprises, the parent company of Bharti Airtel has lately increased its focus on the satellite communication space. It recently bought a 45% stake in OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite operator, for $500 million.

In August this year, Bharti CEO Sunil Mittal sought ISRO’s cooperation in delivering high-speed broadband services in India by early 2022 using a constellation of 648-odd low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites. He also sought ISRO’s support to build affordable access terminals for OneWeb’s services in the country. Disruptive Asia

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