From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Satellite broadband
Mains level : Read the attached story
The race for providing satellite broadband connectivity in India is heating up as companies like Jio, Oneweb, Hughes and Tata-backed Nelco are preparing to provide these services.
Recent developments on satellite broadband
- Earlier last month, Hughes Communications India (HCI), a satellite internet service provider launched India’s first high throughput satellite (HTS) broadband service powered by ISRO satellites.
- It used Ku-band capacity from ISRO GSAT-11 and GSAT-29 satellites with Hughes JUPITER Platform ground technology to deliver high-speed broadband.
What is a Satellite Broadband Service?
- Broadband essentially means a wide bandwidth, high-capacity data transmission technique, using a broad range of frequencies.
- In the case of a satellite broadband service, broadband services are delivered directly via satellites instead of optical fibre or mobile networks.
How is it different from existing broadband services?
(1) Transmission of data over space
- The main difference is that aggregation of all the data generated and transmitted by users accessing the internet happens in the sky or space that is in the satellite.
- In contrast to this, if we take a look at cellular networks, aggregation happens on the ground, in the base stations through optical fibre, cable, etc.
(2) Access to the services
- Another key difference is that to access satellite services, we will need a dish antenna just like we do in the case of TV services, so a normal mobile handset cannot directly access satellite broadband.
- For a user to access satellite broadband a clear line of sight to the satellite is needed.
- Speed: The main advantage of satellite services is that you can provide high-speed internet services in remote areas, where terrestrial networks cannot be set up.
- Eliminating terrain shortcomings: For instance in the middle of the ocean, in rugged unreachable terrain such as the Himalayas — even as remote as on top of Mt. Everest, satellite broadband will work.
- Curbing the divide: In a country with a wide range of geographies such as India, 20-25 per cent of the Indian population resides in areas where it is extremely hard for terrestrial operators to install internet facilities.
Present scope in India
- Currently, VSAT operators offer satellite broadband services at a very limited capacity in India in a few remote locations.
- The utilisation of satellite services for broadband services is restricted to minimal applications — such as disaster management, defence, scientific locations, etc.
How India (undoubtedly, the ISRO) has geared up for adapting to this?
- ISRO’s high throughput GEO (Geostationary Equatorial Orbit) satellites – GSAT-11 and GSAT-29 a few years ago, can beam high-speed internet up to 300 gigabytes per second.
- Apart, many global players look to provide satellite broadband services in India by deploying low earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
- They are launching a constellation of satellites very close to the earth’s surface in order to reduce the latency of satellite broadband.
- Presently, Elon Musk’s Starlink, Sunil Bharti Mittal-backed OneWeb and the Canadian satellite major Telesat are eyeing the Indian market.
When will these services be available in India?
- If things go as planned and the players get the necessary regulatory clearance, these services could become operational in India as soon as next year.
- OneWeb wants to provide backhaul services to telcos by mid-next year, while Starlink wants to provide direct broadband services by December 2022, aiming at 2 lakh terminals.
- Telesat, on the other hand, is eyeing an India launch by 2024.
How much will it cost?
- The provision of direct broadband services through satellites will be pricey.
- According to a user guide for India, provided by Starlink, the first-year cost of a Starlink terminal will be ₹1,58,000 after which it will cost around ₹1,15,000 every year.
Has it been rolled out in other parts of the world?
- Starlink is operational in 14 countries, with 1 lakh terminals shipped to North America and Europe.
- Starlink and OneWeb are still launching satellites that will be a part of their LEO constellation.
What are the major hurdles?
- Latency: Additionally, satellite Internet latency can be a significant problem. This can be a matter of only a second or two, but a delay on that scale can seriously affect real-time applications like video chats.
- Spatial hurdles: Users might not be able to connect to a satellite at all if they are located under heavy foliage or surrounded by other obstructions.
- Limited bandwidth: Satellite data transfer provides very slow Internet speeds and limited satellite bandwidth because of the distances the signals have to travel and all the potential obstacles in between.
- Connection times: This can also be impacted by your surroundings, the length of your message, and the status and availability of the satellite network.
- High input cost: This along with the complex equipment like satellite dishes being used to avail these services makes the service expensive.
Perspective analysis: Why is India itself lagging in this race?
- Globally, companies are striving to build and deploy “mega-constellations” of hundreds or thousands of satellites for this.
- Despite India’s impressive achievements in the space sector, growth has been at snail’s pace.
- Satellite broadband services in India remains primarily for the B2B sector with a market size of roughly $100 million.
Reason’s for India’s slow pace
- Upgrade issues: The Indian networks are still using conventional satellites despite the proliferation of high throughput satellites world-over.
- Lack of domestic industries: There is a lack of domestic participation for building space infrastructure despite ‘Make in India’ mission.
- An urgent re-look at deregulation and privatization is required.
- Advanced space-faring nations have privatized most of these blocks in the value chain.
- There is a need for building systems to help nurture the industry and create an extensive ecosystem to generate a ‘Space 2.0’ in India.