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OneWeb gets nod from India space agency before Starlink

Eutelsat-owned OneWeb has secured approval from India’s space regulator for its upcoming satellite broadband service.

Nick Wood

November 22, 2023

3 Min Read

It has been a long road to India for OneWeb, which has had to jump through several administrative hoops on its quest to offer connectivity from its fleet of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

Reports as far back as April last year said that Bharti-backed OneWeb had applied to the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) for permission to operate.

That was a month after OneWeb secured the necessary GMPCS (global mobile personal communication by satellite) licence from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). This is separate from the requisite ISP and VSAT (very small aperture terminal) licences, which – according to a Financial Express report – OneWeb received from the DoT earlier this month.

“We are pleased to note the Indian space regulator’s green light to launch Eutelsat OneWeb’s commercial satellite broadband services in India,” said Bharti Group chairman and co-chair of Eutelsat, Sunil Bharti Mittal. “This will be a critical step forward to meet India’s ambition of providing internet connectivity for all and will enable the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India.”

OneWeb’s journey is still not quite over yet though – it still needs the government to officially allocate it some spectrum before it can launch commercial services.

This remaining hurdle is perhaps the most difficult one to overcome, because the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) – which makes important recommendations when it comes to spectrum policy – has been without a chairperson since the end of September, when PD Vagehla’s three-year term came to an end.

A separate FE report earlier in November said that the government is unlikely to allocate satellite spectrum until it has received the TRAI’s recommendation, but the TRAI is unlikely to adopt a position until whoever ends up being the new chairperson has settled into the role.

A position is sorely needed though, because according to the report, opinions differ on the preferred allocation process. Satellite operators want the government to simply hand over the spectrum they need, but telco operators are calling for an auction. Given India’s track record for arranging spectrum auctions, this could lead to further delays.

“Eutelsat OneWeb is ready to deploy as soon as it receives the final spectrum authorisation to launch commercial services,” Mittal said.

If there is an upside to this bureaucratic nightmare, it’s that OneWeb is out of the blocks early, giving it a head start on some of its rivals, including Starlink.

According to an Economic Times report a couple of weeks ago, the SpaceX-owned LEO operator has not quite secured its GMPCS licence from the DoT, which had sought clarification about Starlink’s data storage and transfer practices.

Meanwhile, an ET report in October said Amazon – which plans to offer its Kuiper LEO services in India – has only just applied to IN-SPACe for permission to operate, and is finalising the finer points of its GMPCS licence.

Only Indian operator Jio seems to be on level-pegging with OneWeb when it comes to navigating the lengthy application process. It too appears to have all its paperwork in order and is just waiting on spectrum.

It’s interesting to note that Jio and OneWeb are the two operators leading this mind-numbing marathon, and both of them are financially backed by Indian companies – Reliance Jio and Bharti Group respectively.

It’s probably just a coincidence though.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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