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TRAI seeks suggestions to make satellite broadband services affordable

The written comments have been invited from the stakeholders by 9 April.

New Delhi: The cost of satellite broadband services continue to remain on the steeper end in the country, posing a major challenge to its wide adoption by the end users. The issue has been taken up by India’s telecom regulator, which is now looking for ways to drive down the rates of satellite broadband.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has floated a discussion paper and sought views to make satellite communications more affordable in the country. The decision comes at a time when global communication companies, including Bharti Group and UK consortium led OneWeb and Elon Musk’s SpaceX Technologies have expressed their interest in entering India’s satellite internet space.

“Satellite communication can provide coverage to the remotest and inaccessible areas of a geographically widespread country like India. With the evolution of satellite communication technologies, new types of applications based on low-bit-rate applications are emerging. Such applications require low cost, low power and small size terminals that can effectively perform the task of signal transfer with minimum loss,” TRAI stated in its paper.

The telecom regulator emphasiaed upon creating an enabling environment to attract investment into the satellite communication space. It has also sought feedback on whether licensed national long distance (NLD) operators can be allowed to offer satellite services to connect the new wave of Internet of things (IoT) devices, and if only some frequency bands should be available for such satellite-based IoT connectivity.

The written comments have been invited from the stakeholders by 9 April and counter comments by 23 April.

The telecom regulator also noted that there are long delays reported in procurement of satellite bandwidth through the current processes due to the involvement of multiple agencies for seeking various clearances and approvals. “To attract investment and new players in a sector, the most important characteristic is the ‘ease of doing business’,” stated TRAI, adding that there is need for a single window clearance for all kinds of satellite-based processes.

Among other issues, it has also sought views on whether satellite service licensees should be allowed to obtain bandwidth from foreign satellites for providing IoT connectivity. Also, whether any specific or all bands should be permitted for provisioning satellite-based IoT connectivity. It also invited suggestions on whether a new licensing framework should be proposed for the provision of satellite-based connectivity for low-bit-rate applications or the existing licensing framework may be suitably amended to include the provisioning of such connectivity.

“In spite of the fact that cost of launching a satellite in India is the lowest globally, yet the licensing formalities, technical criteria, lack of ‘Open Skies Policy’ are significant barriers for the growth of satellite services in the country. The satellite services need to be made affordable for wider acceptability by price sensitive Indian industry and end-users,” noted the telecom regulator.

Last September, the then chairman of TRAI, R S Sharma, had also called for an urgent need to bring down the price of broadband services provided through satellites, asserting that its current high price could pose a challenge in its adoption in the country. 

“There’s an urgent need to liberalise the satcom policy to boost satellite-based broadband penetration in rural, remote and hilly regions that remain largely unconnected by mobile and terrestrial communication networks, given the big global advances in satellite technologies,” Sharma had said, highlighting the need to align the satcom policy with emerging requirements of 5G and IoT.

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