January 24, 2024: Starlink, Elon Musk’s company that specialises in satellite internet services, is on the verge of obtaining regulatory approval to commence operations in India. The move is expected to bring high-speed internet access to residents in rural and remote areas, addressing the connectivity gaps prevalent in these regions.
Starlink is in the final stages of securing approval from the Indian government after successfully navigating regulatory hurdles. To initiate operations, the company needs to clarify its shareholding pattern to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. Following this clarification, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is likely to issue a letter of intent to Starlink.
The Satellite Communications Wing of the DoT will then grant final approval once telecom secretary Neeraj Mittal and minister of communications Ashwani Vaishnav give their consent. Starlink, having applied for a global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) license in 2022, will become the third company, alongside Jio Satellite Communications and OneWeb, to receive this license.
Approval Process and Spectrum Allocation
Even with regulatory clearance, Starlink is not immediately authorized to provide satellite-based broadband services. Additional approval from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre is necessary for setting up earth stations. Furthermore, all approved companies, including Starlink, OneWeb, and Jio’s satellite arm, await spectrum allocation from the DoT to commence service. Amazon’s Project Kuiper is also seeking a GMPCS license in India.
Starlink’s Past Challenges in India
In 2021, Starlink encountered issues with the Indian government for accepting pre-orders without the necessary permissions. The government directed Starlink to refund fees collected for its terminals. Following this incident, Sanjay Bhargava, the head of Starlink’s India operations, resigned. Despite submitting trial applications in 2022, Starlink faced restrictions from the DoT.
Who Benefits from Starlink’s Services in India?
Satellite communication (satcom) offers broadband speeds comparable to 4G, making it particularly beneficial for consumers in remote areas where traditional infrastructure is lacking. Starlink’s users typically experience download speeds ranging from 25 to 220 Mbps, with a majority enjoying speeds exceeding 100 Mbps. The technology is especially advantageous for schools and healthcare facilities.
Cost of Starlink’s Service in India
The cost of Starlink’s service in India remains undisclosed, but estimates from the former India head suggest an initial cost of about Rs 1,58,000 in the first year. Subsequently, the service cost, including a 30 percent tax, is expected to be Rs 1,15,000 from the second year. The user equipment’s base price is anticipated to be Rs 37,400, with an additional monthly service fee of Rs 7,425.
Global Operations and Technology Overview
Starlink operates a constellation of over 5,000 active satellites in low-earth orbit, approximately 550 km above the Earth’s surface. This unique positioning significantly reduces latency, making it suitable for high data rate activities such as streaming, video calls, and online gaming. SpaceX, Starlink’s parent company, prides itself on being the only satellite operator capable of launching and updating satellites at a high frequency, ensuring the technology remains cutting-edge.
|Pending approval from the Indian government, Starlink is in the final stages, awaiting a letter of intent.
|Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite Services (GMPCS), applied for in 2022.
|Other Licensed Providers
|Jio Satellite Communications, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper also seek GMPCS licenses in India.
|Earth Station Approval
|Pending approval from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre.
|All approved companies, including Starlink, await spectrum allocation from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
|Speeds and User Experience
|Starlink users typically experience download speeds between 25 and 220 Mbps, with low latency (around 25 ms).
|Beneficiaries in India
|Rural and remote areas, schools, and healthcare facilities.
|Initial cost around Rs 1,58,000 in the first year, Rs 1,15,000 from the second year, including a 30% tax.
|Anticipated user equipment base price: Rs 37,400, with a monthly service fee of Rs 7,425.
|Global Satellite Operations
|Constellation of over 5,000 active satellites in low-earth orbit at approximately 550 km.
|Low latency (around 25 ms) facilitates high data rate activities like streaming, video calls, and gaming.
|SpaceX, the only satellite operator capable of frequent, low-cost launches and constant satellite updates.
|Space Economy Projection (2025)
|India’s space economy expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 6% to reach $13 billion by 2025.
Satellite communication in India is at an early stage, but it holds immense potential, especially for rural and remote regions. According to a report by EY-ISpA, India’s space economy is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent to reach $13 billion by 2025. Starlink’s entry into the Indian market is poised to play a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide and bringing high-speed internet to the underserved populations.