“Satellite communications can act as backhaul for cellular networks”

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The way satellite communication has been gaining prominence globally, it is seen as the next big thing in the telecom space. To understand what this technology is all about and how it can complement the existing network infrastructure, Ramesh Kumar Raja talked to Sabyasachi Majumdar, Group Head and Senior Vice President at ICRA. It must be noted that ICRA recently came up with a report that says the user base of satellite communication in India is expected to increase to about 1.5-2 million by 2025, clocking revenue of nearly Rs 5,000-6,000 crore annually, if the operating environment eases. Excerpts:

What exactly is satellite communication and what are the technicalities involved in it?

The normal communication as of now is done via a terrestrial network, which involves communication between active mobile instruments located on the ground. In satellite communication, the signal goes to a satellite, or a constellation of satellites and returns back from there, through a specific spectrum band. There are three types of satellites – GEO, MEO and LEO. Off late, a lot of developments are happening in the LEO space where the satellite operators are launching a constellation of satellites which can be used for communication purposes.


What are the benefits that it offers? How can satellite communication complement the existing network infrastructure?

Satellites have wide geographical coverage and can act as service providers in areas which are remote, sparsely populated and inaccessible where there is a difficulty in laying terrestrial networks. Thus, satellite communications can act as backhaul for cellular networks. Further, satellite communications act as only source of communications during disasters.

How do you see it rolling out globally and what is its status in India?

Globally while the penetration of satellite users (both retail and enterprise) is low despite being in place for a long time, things are evolving now. With the launch of LEO satellites, latencies have reduced and satcom operators are promising healthy data transmission speeds, the market is expected to grow. While it still remains a pricier option, the pricing should normalise over the medium term which can increase the pace of adoption. India has its own set of challenges in terms of strict skies policy, vague licensing regime and lack of clarity on spectrum allocation and frequencies.

“With the launch of LEO satellites, latencies have reduced and satcom operators are promising healthy data transmission speeds, the market is expected to grow”

Who are the major players in this space and what is their level of preparedness to take the communication technology to the next level?

This space is largely captured by global players. While there are traditionl operators like Intelsat, Viasat, Hughes, Inmarsat, etc, new players like OneWeb and Starlink have been very active in launching satellites, while Amazon and China Satellite Network Group also have plans to launch a constellation of LEO satellites. These players are working on newest of technologies, claiming low latency rates and high data transmission speeds.

Can you please tell us about the business opportunities that it offers? How do you look at India as a market for this technology?

As mentioned above, these are largely effective in inaccessible and remote areas. While this remains an expensive proposition, the operating environment is also not very conducive. If the same easens, the satcom user base is expected to expand in the medium to longer term.

What are the challenges you see over here that are obstructing its growth?

Satcom is an expensive service vis-a-vis terrestrial network for the consumers. Further, the operating environment in India is difficult with strict policies for foreign and private players to operate in this space, unclear licensing policies and uncertainty around the band of spectrum to be used as well as the mechanism of allocation of the same.

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