India’s satellite services sector is poised for increased activity as two major players, Jio and Airtel, make significant advancements in the space. Jio, the country’s largest service provider, recently launched JioSpaceFiber, a satellite-based broadband service. The company showcased its satellite-based giga fiber service by connecting four remote locations at the India Mobile Congress 2023. Jio has partnered with SES to use a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellation for connectivity in remote areas.
Jio plans to launch commercial services in the near future, targeting both retail and enterprise customers. Reports suggest that the company also has plans to expand globally after the commercial launch in India. The service will be offered at affordable prices, according to Jio.
Meanwhile, Airtel, in which Bharti Enterprises holds the largest stake, is preparing to offer satellite services in collaboration with Eutelsat-OneWeb. A satellite ground station has been set up in Gujarat’s Mehsana to enable connectivity across the country, even in remote and difficult-to-reach areas. Airtel has a 21.2% stake in the merger between OneWeb and Eutelsat, which together have a network of 618 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites.
Currently, Jio Satellite Communications and Eutelsat-OneWeb are the only two companies licensed to offer satellite communication services in India. However, they will face competition from Elon Musk’s Starlink, Tata Group’s Nelco, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. Amazon has applied for necessary approvals from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
Amidst the growth potential of satellite-based communications in India, the allocation of spectrum for these services remains an unresolved matter. Jio advocates for auctioning the spectrum, while Airtel believes in non-auction allocation. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has yet to provide recommendations on this matter, continuing to divide the industry.
Satellite-based communications have the potential to connect a significant part of India’s unconnected population. However, affordable pricing will be crucial for the success of these services. The Starlink packages, although previously advertised to rural Indian consumers, were considered expensive. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that Starlink may soon receive government approval to sell its satellite service in India.
The upcoming months are expected to bring significant developments and competition in India’s satellite-based communication space.