Elon Musk is eager to bring his Starlink satellite broadband to India, but the world’s richest man faces strong resistance from Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s wealthiest, who runs Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio.
Following a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the U.S. on Tuesday, Musk said he was keen to launch Starlink in India which “can be incredibly helpful” in remote villages that have no internet or lack high-speed services.
What he didn’t talk about is how Starlink is at odds with Ambani’s Reliance over the government’s distribution of satellite broadband spectrum, setting the stage for a battle between two of the world’s richest men for satellite services in the world’s most populous nation.
Starlink is lobbying India to not auction the spectrum but just assign licences in line with a global trend, saying it is a natural resource that should be shared by companies. An auction may impose geographical restrictions that will raise costs, it said in company letters made public by the Indian government this month.
Reliance disagrees and has called for an auction in a public submission to the government, saying foreign satellite service providers could offer voice and data services and compete with traditional telecom players, and so there must be an auction to achieve a level playing field.
In signs of deepening rivalry, an industry source with direct knowledge said Reliance will continue nudging the Indian government to auction satellite spectrum, and not agree to the demands of foreign companies.
The stakes are high for Musk. His push comes after a 2021 attempt to launch Starlink in India ran afoul of local regulators for taking bookings without a license, and just as he is in talks with India to set up a Tesla factory.
For Ambani, keeping foreign competition at bay in satellite broadband will be another shot in the arm – his Reliance Jio already has 439 million telecom users, making it the market leader, and 8 million wired broadband connections, a 25% market share.
Starlink’s view on auctions is shared by Amazon’s satellite internet initiative, Project Kuiper, and the British government-backed OneWeb.
Amazon declined comment. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, OneWeb and Starlink parent SpaceX, did not respond. Reuters