India will ask Elon Musk-owned SpaceX Technologies to apply for relevant licenses before offering its Starlink satellite internet service in the country after the company had begun pre-orders for its service.
According to ET, which first reported the development, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will write to SpaceX, seeking to understand its India plans and decide whether it requires both internet service provider (ISP) and very small aperture terminal (VSAT) service authorisations, or just one to offer high-speed satellite internet services here.
“DoT has no objections to SpaceX offering the Starlink satellite internet service in India. But it must comply with the laws of the land and seek an appropriate license and other authorisations before offering the service to Indian consumers,” a source told the publication.
Starlink once built fully, will consist of small satellites, each weighing about 260kg, in the low Earth orbit (altitude of 2,000 km), compared to large navigation and communication satellites which operate from medium earth orbit of 2,000 km to 35,000 km. These satellites would enable broadband internet access at reasonably low latency. As of November last year, SpaceX was targeting the beta test for Starlink in Northern Canada and the US by the end of 2020. The US-based aerospace tech company plans to rapidly expand to near-global coverage of the populated world by 2021.
During the beta test, the company has claimed that users would be able to see internet speeds between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms.
According to the ET report, DoT will also determine whether SpaceX needs to approach the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to secure landing rights to use signals of foreign satellites in India for offering its satellite internet services.
The Indian government announced the launch of IN-SPACe in June last year to facilitate the greater participation of private players in India’s space sector. It is an independent nodal agency under the Department of Space, and will assess the needs and demands of private players, including educational and research institutions, and, explore ways to accommodate these requirements in consultation with ISRO
Last month, Starlink’s website started allowing Indian users to pre-book its services for several locations in India for a refundable amount of $99. The website mentions that availability is limited and that orders will be fulfilled on a first-come-first-serve basis. The company is planning to launch its satellite internet service in India by 2022.
Later that month, the Broadband India Forum (BIF), an independent policy forum and think-tank that represents the likes of Amazon, Hughes, Google, Microsoft, OneWeb and Facebook, asked the Indian government to stop SpaceX from pre-selling the Starlink beta services to Indian consumers on grounds that the latter did not have a suitable license or authorisation.
OneWeb, which is co-owned by Bharti Airtel and the UK government, is a direct competitor to Starlink and has plans to launch 648 satellites. In comparison, Starlink has 1200 satellites in orbit. Earlier this month, OneWeb and Starlink’s satellites nearly crashed into each other in orbit, triggering a war of words between both companies.