News Brief

Elon Musk's Starlink Begins Process For Entry Into India, Applies For Earth Station Clearances

Swarajya News Staff

Jul 11, 2023, 09:42 AM | Updated 09:41 AM IST

Starlink Antenna (Pic Via Starlink Website)
Starlink Antenna (Pic Via Starlink Website)

Elon Musk-owned Starlink has reportedly submitted an application to the Indian National Space Promotion & Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to obtain clearances for establishing earth stations.

This move marks a significant step for Starlink's entry into India, where it will face competition from other players such as OneWeb (backed by Bharti Group), Amazon, and Reliance Jio's satcom arm.

In addition to the IN-SPACe application, Starlink had previously applied to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for a global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) licence.

The Ministry of Home Affairs is currently conducting a security check for Starlink's GMPCS license, which is expected to be granted within the next couple of months, Economic Times reported citing officials aware of the matter.

"They (Starlink) have (also) applied to IN-SPACe. The GMPCS application is under process,” a government official was quoted as saying by ET.

Under the new Space Policy 2023 in India, foreign entities are now permitted to establish infrastructure and offer satellite services.

However, they must seek approval from IN-SPACe, which acts as the sole single-window agency for authorising space activities by both government and private satcom players.

Starlink, a subsidiary of SpaceX, is awaiting approvals and spectrum allocation from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in India.

Its rival, Oneweb, has already obtained the necessary approvals but is waiting for spectrum allocation.

Reliance Jio's satellite arm has also received the GMPCS license from DoT.

SpaceX initially faced challenges in India when it had to refund pre-booking money to consumers after the DoT asked it to first seek regulatory approvals before taking any pre-orders for its services.

The company then withdrew its communication regarding pre-orders and is currently in the process of obtaining the required regulatory approvals.

Competition in India's emerging broadband-from-space services sector has intensified as companies aim to launch their services quickly and gain a first-mover advantage.

The satellite communications market in India is still in its early stages but has significant potential, particularly in rural and remote areas.

According to an EY-ISpA report, India's space economy is projected to reach $13 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6 per cent.

Amazon is currently participating in the consultation process led by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to finalize the allocation methodology for satellite spectrum.

While they have not yet applied for regulatory approvals, it is expected that the regulator will provide its proposals to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) by August.

Satellite communication (satcom) companies like Starlink, OneWeb, and Amazon are advocating for spectrum allocation without auctions. However, they face opposition from telecom companies like Jio and Vodafone Idea, who believe that spectrum should be allotted to the highest bidder.

Bharti Airtel, another telecom company, does not support auctions, but for different reasons than the satcom companies.

The satcom industry has raised concerns about the affordability of broadband-from-space services and the potential negative impact on consumers, particularly those in rural and remote areas, if spectrum is auctioned.

Industry experts have also warned that auctioning satellite spectrum could hinder the growth of the space sector and discourage foreign direct investment (FDI) in satellite broadband.

TRAI is considering the possibility of recommending an auction model for satcom spectrum allocation, but only if it is determined that such a model would not harm the satellite and broadcasting industries.

The regulator is reportedly mindful of the potential consequences and will only recommend an auction if it is confident that it will not have detrimental effects on these sectors.

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