Satellite spectrum allocation likely in 4-5 months, Trai to fix price


With the Telecom Bill allowing satellite spectrum to be administratively allocated, satcom providers will have to wait at least 4-5 months or more for the process to start. Having received all clearances, Reliance Jio and Airtel-backed Oneweb just require the necessary spectrum to start providing satcom services.


Sources in the know said they expect the bill to be fully debated and passed in Parliament only by the Budget session in February. Work on creating departmental rules for allocating satellite spectrum will begin afterwards and will take a few months, they added.


The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which has been headless for three months now, will also need to recommend a pricing mechanism and set a reserve price for the airwaves. Officials at the regulator said work on satellite spectrum will begin only after a new Chairperson takes charge. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has invited applications for the position twice in the last six months.


Satellite or orbit is a segment of radio spectrum made available when satellites are placed into orbit. A debate over whether the scarce resource should be auctioned or allocated by the government has raged on for the last few years. Now, the telecom bill has included satellite-based services to a list of sectors where the government has the right to administratively allocate spectrum, thereby ending the debate which had split the telecom industry.


It has named teleports, television channels, direct-to-home (DTH), Digital Satellite News Gathering, and Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) and mobile satellite services in L and S bands, among others, for spectrum allocation outside of auctions.


Unlike in auctions, an administrative allocation of spectrum will allow multiple operators to use a particular band of spectrum. This happens since the linear nature of satellite bands at particular locations on earth can be serviced by a satellite in orbit only when it is directly positioned above it. As it moves past the point, another satellite belonging to a different operator may pick up the band.


As a result of these technical challenges, there are no global precedents for auctions for satellite spectrum globally, officials said.


Sources said the satellite economy currently remains a minute part of the overall telecom ecosystem, and is expected to do so in the next five years despite the rapid development of technology and use cases. But with a long list of startups in the space emerging, and usage of satellite spectrum increasing, the value of the satellite industry may skyrocket.


In the case that more competition appears in the sector, the government will again review whether the auction route makes sense, and provisions for this are present in the bill, sources said.


Administrative allocation will allow for the reduction of costs for players as they will not be required to engage in highly competitive and expensive auctions, Abhay Chattopadhyay, Partner at Economic Laws Practice, said. “Indeed, for existing players, such a benefit would also mean increased competition, especially in areas where terrestrial network coverage is poor, with telecom service providers (TSPs) being required to invest in innovation and improvement of services so as to protect their business interests,” he added.


Race Heating Up


The DoT has already granted Eutelsat OneWeb and Reliance Jio’s satellite arm Jio Space Limited the Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite Services (GMPCS) licence needed to offer satellite-based broadband services in India.


Jio is banking on a series of Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites belonging to Luxembourg-based satellite telecommunications network provider SES.

Eutelsat OneWeb, which was created in September as the result of a merger between OneWeb and French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications, is banking on a combination of Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) – Low Earth Orbit (LEO) fleet of satellites. It believes this will combine network density and high throughput of GEO satellites with the low latency and ubiquity of LEO to offer customers global, fully integrated connectivity services.


Both companies are now facing off in the segment with Jio successfully demonstrating its Jio SpaceFiber service at IMC, India’s first satellite-based gigabit speed broadband service to previously inaccessible geographies within the country. Meanwhile, Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal announced that Bharti Airtel-backed Eutelsat OneWeb’s satellite communication service will be available in India soon.

First Published: Dec 19 2023 | 7:49 PM IST

The Telecom Bill in India will allow for the administrative allocation of satellite spectrum, which means that satellite communication (satcom) providers like Reliance Jio and Airtel-backed Oneweb will need to wait for several months before they can start offering satcom services. The bill is expected to be fully debated and passed in Parliament by the Budget session in February, after which the process of creating departmental rules for allocating satellite spectrum will begin. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) will also need to recommend a pricing mechanism and set a reserve price for the airwaves. The satellite spectrum allocation will be done through administrative allocation rather than auctions, allowing multiple operators to use the same band of spectrum. Currently, the satellite economy is a small part of the overall telecom ecosystem, but with the emergence of startups in the space and increasing usage of satellite spectrum, the value of the satellite industry may increase. The government may review the auction route if more competition appears in the sector. Administrative allocation will reduce costs for players and increase competition, particularly in areas with poor terrestrial network coverage. Both Reliance Jio and Eutelsat OneWeb have been granted licenses to offer satellite-based broadband services in India, with Jio using Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites and Eutelsat OneWeb using a combination of Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. Both companies are competing in the segment, with Jio successfully demonstrating its satellite-based broadband service and Airtel announcing the availability of Eutelsat OneWeb’s satellite communication service in India.,

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