The government will reportedly use high-speed satellite connectivity technology as well as fixed wireless access (FWA) to connect rural areas, along with fibre connectivity, under the revamped BharatNet project with an outlay of Rs 1.4 trillion. The current plan is to connect 10 per cent of the gram panchayats in remote and mountainous regions where optical fibre cable deployment is difficult.
According to industry sources, once the move is approved, it will pave the way for private players such as Reliance Jio, Starlink, and OneWeb to collaborate with the government. There are possibilities that Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) might also tie up with satellite communication satcom players to provide satellite broadband connectivity in the country. The option for satellite connectivity under BharatNet will be considered by the government depending on requirements and cost-effectiveness.
The government is currently reviewing the requirements to consider connectivity via low earth orbit (LEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites. In phase 1 and phase 2 of the BharatNet project, some gram panchayats were provided broadband connectivity through geostationary satellites using services from Hughes. However, geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) satellites may not be suitable for applications that require low latency compared to LEO and MEO constellations.
BSNL, which is the single project management agency of the BharatNet project, is expected to roll out a tender by December 2023, based on which it will select companies for laying out fibre as well as operation and maintenance of sites connected under the BharatNet project. The company is targeting to offer the tender and start the implementation of the project by March and April 2024.
The revamped BharatNet project involves three-level architecture – internet leased line bandwidth to be provided by BSNL at 7,269 blocks, middle-mile connectivity (block to gram panchayat) that will involve private players to operate and maintain the project for 10 years, and last mile connectivity (village to household) which is the Udyami model.