DoT ropes in ISRO scientists to explore use of satellite for broadband

The Department of Telecom has roped in top scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation to remove bottlenecks for the use of satellite technologies in improving penetration of voice telephony and broadband in the country.

DoT and ISRO scientists have already have one round of meeting to discuss issues such as capacity addition, pricing and changes in policy required to facilitate satellite-based communications, especially in regions that are remotely located.

Big challenge

The big challenge for satellite communication is that there is not enough capacity on ISRO transponders and existing users such as DTH operators and VSAT companies have to depend on foreign transponders. According to senior DoT officials, even the capacity provided through Antrix Corporation (unit under the Department of Space) is expensive compared to other communication media. DoT had recently requested the Department of Space to reduce tariffs for providing connectivity in places such as Arunachal Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

There is also considerable delay in clearing VSAT permits due to cumbersome procedural requirements. These approvals are given by DoT and the DoS.

Single window clearance

DoT has proposed that a single window clearance mechanism should be developed by including a representative from the Department of Space in the Telecom Commission, the highest decision making body in the Telecom Department.

According to Euroconsult, a global consulting firm specialising in space markets, the demand for regular satellite capacity in India has been growing at over 6 per cent between 2008 and 2013 and now reached 214 transponder equivalents. ISRO/Antrix provides 43 per cent of the commercial demand for satellite capacity in India on its own satellites, with the majority being provided by foreign satellite operators. In order to meet the growing demand in the country, ISRO currently leases around 90 transponders, from foreign satellite operators SES, Measat, SingTel, Asiasat, Intelsat and IPStar.

Deepu Krishnan, Senior Consultant, Euroconsult, said: “There is also a severe lack of back up capacity in the event of unexpected satellite failures. The recent premature failure of INSAT-3E satellite in March 2014 saw the need to redeploy over 10,000 VSATs, including the ones used for critical stock exchange networks and the telecommunication links to Andaman and Nicobar islands within a short notice period.”

Krishnan said the market for consumer broadband services over satellite is currently quasi still inexistent in India, since the market remains locked by regulation and due to lack of adequate satellite systems to provide such services. In other regions of the world, notably the US, consumer broadband via satellite has gained strong traction in recent years and taken an important role to provide broadband services to the un- and under-served and remote markets. For example in US with a population of around one fourth of that in India, the number of satellite broadband subscribers has reached over 1.5 million in 2013.

The rapid growth in subscribers in the above regions in recent years has been enabled by the introduction of next generation High Throughput Satellite Systems (HTS), which offer higher capacity at a cheaper bit rate price. In Europe and North America, the two largest consumer broadband markets, the cost per Mbps of satellite internet with download speed up to 20Mbps is now comparable to terrestrial alternatives including 4G, and optical fibre Internet.

“India is seen to have a significant market potential for consumer broadband over satellite, as a large share of population still remain beyond the reach of the terrestrial broadband network. The country’s fibre infrastructure development still remain limited to urban areas as the fibre extension projects to rural remote areas were virtually stalled with the arrival of mobile networks in the late 90s,” said Krishnan.

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