The two richest businessmen of the world — Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — are all set to grab a share of the pie that Airtel’s Sunil Mittal, Reliance Jio’s Mukesh Ambani and Vodafone India Idea Cellular’s British and Indian partners have been sharing in the high-speed broadband and internet market. Musk and Bezos have approached the union government with separate plans to offer satellite-based internet connectivity.
Sources said that the satellite internet venture, Starlink, belonging to Musk, and Amazon have held separate consultations with the telecom ministry, as well as the Department of Space, for starting satellite-based internet services in India “though they are yet to apply for a license through the formal route”.
“Consultants representing the companies have had discussions with us, and have indicated that they are keen to offer internet services in India using a constellation of satellites. We expect them to apply for the licence very soon,” a source in the telecom department said.
Currently, OneWeb, in which Mittal’s Bharti Global holds the largest stake and has partners such as the UK government, has publicly announced plans of launching satellite-based services in India by next year (also launching across other global geographies). OneWeb has received a national long distance (NLD) license from the telecom department.
The companies plan to offer large swathes of bandwidth, with speeds as high as 1 GBPS or even more, via low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites that would be deployed at a distance of around 1,000km from Earth.
The bandwidth would then be sold to a variety of users/customers that will include business enterprises, railways, shipping companies, defence establishments, airlines, and telecom companies, thus directly competing with the likes of Airtel and Jio.
Also, these services can be used to reach dark zones in rural areas, as well as difficult terrains such as deserts and mountainous regions, and those infested with naxals and other sensitive locations.
The telecom department source said that companies will have to follow the guidelines stipulated for telecom services as and when they begin services. “All the mandates, including those around lawful interception and other security needs, will need to be adhered to as per the licensing conditions.”
Musk has said publicly that his company is keen to come to India through his ambitious project, Starlink, and is studying government regulations for beginning services. “Just figuring out the regulatory approval process,” he had told a user on Twitter recently when asked about the India plans.
In fact, Starlink of Musk has appointed Sanjay Bhargava, a “founding employee” of PayPal (where Musk was amongst the co-founders), as “country director” for India.
Bhargava, who joins the company on Friday, had said on his LinkedIn page a few days back, “Super-excited to join Space X effective 1 October 1, 2021, as Starlink country director India. Had worked with @elonmusk on the PayPal founding team. Have been in India since 2004 and Starlink and I share a common passion for supporting a transformed India starting with rural India.”
Amazon, the company of Bezos whose sister concern in retail is facing tough competition from Indian companies while Netflix gives another sister concern Amazon Prime a run for its money, is looking to step into the satellite-based internet service in the country. The company, as per sources, feels that a bigger footprint in India through high-speed broadband will help it reach a wider online audience, which can also be another enabler for its retail business.
Amazon will get its services in India through its “Project Kuiper” programme which is engaged in launching LEO satellites to cover the entire globe.
A few weeks ago, Mittal’s OneWeb and American Hughes Network entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a strategic agreement to distribute internet services to large enterprises, small and medium businesses, government, telecom companies and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in rural and remote parts of the country.