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Telecom technology trends that will define the industry in 2023

Onset of SARS-CoV-2 virus in early 2020 prompted the telecom industry to re-define the roadmap of affordable broadband and connecting-the-unconnected, with applications like WFH, online education, online transaction gateways, online shopping, e-commerce, virtual meetings, etc gained prominence globally.

Recognizing telecom, ICT and digital economy sectors as the key economy drivers, the Government brought reforms in the telecommunication sector in last two to three years. As a result, India has been witnessing exponential digital growth, proliferation of mobile devices, data-driven businesses, innovative downstream applications, increased number of start-ups, growing interest of global investors, etc., which are set to reshape the Indian economy in coming years.

Reforms in space sector in June 2020 and constitution of the Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), an autonomous single window nodal agency for Non-Governmental Private Entities (NGPEs) and governing space activities (permit, regulate, promote, hand-hold, monitor and supervise) in India, has created a lot of excitement worldwide.

In less than a year since the inauguration of its Headquarters in Ahmedabad by Prime Minister in June 2022, IN-SPACe has received close to 200 proposals seeking ISRO’s technical facilities and support, authorization, mentorship, etc., across verticals viz., satellites, launches, ground segment and applications. This indicates magnitude of space activities expected in this year.

Apart from authorizing the space activities in India, IN-SPACe also acts as an Enabler for NGPEs, enabling them to access the ISRO facilities, technologies and technical support. In addition, a technical-centre comprising of commonly used test-facilities, design & simulation tools and software, assembly-integration-testing (AIT) facility, etc would become operational at IN-SPACe Headquarters premises by this year-end. These facilities will be made available exclusively to the NGPEs for their use. IN-SPACe will also offer mentorship to the start-ups by its in-house experts and retired ISRO brains. A seed-funding scheme for the nascent start-ups and a pricing-policy offering the Government’s facilities are under active consideration. IN-SPACe is also working on formulating a long and short-term strategy and vision for the Indian space sector taking into account, among others, the projected demand across all the verticals and identifying the white spots. All of these initiatives of IN-SPACe and ISRO are expected to result in increased activities by the Indian private sector which would lead to innovative applications and technologies.

The most talked telecom technology in India in 2023 is – unveiling of 5G services pan India. Industry has been given a target of installing 10K BTS/month. 5G shall expand telecom ecosystem-touching almost all sectors like transportation, medical, manufacturing, precision agriculture, digitalized logistics, tracking and navigations, food and packaging, broadcasting, etc. Two of the top Indian Telecos – Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are holding hopes for Pan-India rollout of 5G services. Both the companies, in some way or other, are considering using satcom technology to exploit full potential of 5G. With LEO/MEO satellite constellations providers lined up to enter into Indian market, the satellite-terrestrial integrated networks are gaining much attention for service continuity and ubiquity, where satellites segment is used as a supplement and extension to the terrestrial communication. This is in addition to the B2B and B2C connectivity and broadband services that are expected to emerge from LEO/MEO constellations and high throughput satellites being offered/planned over India. Availability of such cost-effective HTS capacity would also enable vacating traditional bent-pipe transponders for broadcasting, strategic and other niche applications. Not only this, HTS class of satellites and deployment of LEO/MEO satellite constellations would spur the growth of the ground station industry as well, in terms of hubs, gateways, antennas and UPEs requirements.

Another application ramping up is Internet of Things (IoT) networks for better supervision, control, planning and decision making. IoT, teamed up with Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and cloud technology, is enabling connectivity and automation in various sectors. As part of government reforms, DoT has delicensed 865-868 MHz spectrum band for IoT. Lakhs of IoT devices or thin-line application sensors, operating on terrestrial networks, shall soon grow multi-folds and will get connected to satellites through hubs. New-space companies like Aadyah Aerospace, REConnect Energy, etc are bringing in such satellite technology innovations in agriculture, oil & gas, energy and power sectors. Indian Railways has a comprehensive plan to use this technology for its fleet tracking and monitoring requirements.

The In-Flight and Maritime Connectivity (IFMC) is another important application that is expected to gain momentum in the year 2023, with several national and global service providers tied up to exploit the huge Indian market. Though most of the international flights have started providing inflight connectivity in the aircrafts over India, domestic fleet operators are still making up with Covid-19 losses, volatile oil prices due to Ukraine-Russia war and volatility of exchange rates. The requisite changes and reforms in the policies, regulatory frameworks and satellite capacity in different frequency bands over India are in place to help the sectors grow.

IN-SPACe has also been receiving several proposals from the Industry and academia on deployment of small satellites and cubesats proposing gamut of applications such as earth observation, IoT, space environment and atmospheric studies, technology/capability demonstration, etc. Proposals for deploying the constellation of small satellites are also being processed. Besides, several proposals to utilize ISRO’s PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM) for hosting the payloads for various short-term applications are being received. POEM is the fourth stage of the PSLV which carries standard interfaces and packages for power generation, telemetry, tele-command, 3-axis stabilization, orbit keeping and orbit manoeuvring. This indicates that small satellites/cubesats would be one of the major activities by Indian space sector in 2023.

In the broadcast sector, additional Ku-band DTH capacity brought-in/planned by NSIL is set to be utilized optimally. Impact of the recent repurposing of the C-band spectrum in the NFAP-2022 on the satellite TV broadcast industry needs to be monitored carefully, and the appropriate affordable solutions are likely to be evolved during the year.

Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN), which include satellite networks, shall play a critical role in providing continuous and high-capacity connectivity globally. Very soon, Indian Telecom service providers may offer satellite services (voice, data, multimedia) to fill coverage gaps by directly connecting standard mobile phones to satellites, bringing in challenges for the Government in terms of spectrum, security, interference and requisite regulatory changes. It would also be interesting to watch that how soon the emerging technologies such as software defined satellites, software defined networks, multi-orbit network and smart edge user terminals, etc find their way to enter into Indian market.

World Radio Conference (WRC-23) of the ITU would be an important event in 2023 which would define the roadmap for the usage of radio spectrum and telecom technologies for the coming years.

While recession, stressed economy and hyper-inflation in 2023 are being talked globally, these could be the most exciting times for telcom sector in India. Upcoming events such as revision of the sectorial guidelines for space sector in the FDI policy, Indian Space Policy, Space Activities Bill in progress, IN-SPACe initiatives, WRC-23, etc are electrifying and have direct bearing on satellite based telecommunication in the country. Exciting times are ahead indeed!

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