India: Satellite broadband access fight

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Bharti Global has generated plenty of headlines as to its plans for OneWeb, in which it is the major shareholder, for India. Now it has emerged that rival Tata Group is also looking at broadband-by-satellite over India.

India’s Economic Times newspaper says that Tata Group subsidiary business Nelco, is in “advanced talks” with Canada’s Telesat satellite operation and looking to sign up Telesat as a supplier of Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) broadband capacity from Telesat’s Lightspeed constellation now under construction.

The report says that Tata is looking to commit to a Master Service Agreement for Lightspeed LEO over Europe. The reports suggest that services would start in 2024. Tata and Telesat plan to work on the business-to-business (B2B) model wherein the satellite bandwidth will be offered to telcos so that they can provide to areas where mobile connectivity is weak. The two companies are also said to be planning to work on ways to make satellite broadband affordable in India.

If an agreement is signed then Tata will join Bharti in having secured exclusive access to capacity.

However, while Bharti says that it could commence services to India by mid-2022, any Lightspeed service is some way off given that satellite builder Thales Alenia is talking about “two years” from its order in February 2021. Then, even allowing for partial services, the orbiting craft will need deploying and testing, hence the delay until 2024 for complete service introduction.

Which is not to say that other players have ignored India’s huge potential, not least Elon Musk. Musk’s Starlink is on the verge of operating an initial global service from its existing fleet. Starlink also has reportedly filed applications for the necessary licences to operate in India.


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