The Indian satellite communication space has witnessed significant growth during the past year. Both, the Department of Space (DOS) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have played an instrumental role in propelling this growth and encouraging private sector participation in the satcom space to help bridge India’s digital divide. Dr S. Somanath, secretary, DOS and chairman, ISRO, shares his views on the evolving satellite communications segment in India, the key highlights of 2022, ISRO’s role in it, the impact of 5G on this domain, and the way forward. Excerpts…
How has the Indian satellite communication space evolved during 2022? What have been the key highlights for the sector?
The satellite communication sector has been consistently evolving with new advancements to meet the demands of applications. Satellite communication plays a very important role in enhancing rural connectivity for broadband services and catering to emerging applications such as internet of things (IoT), mobility, etc. During 2022, the satcom industry in India has seen a recovery from the slowdown encountered due to Covid-19. With space sector reforms, we see a lot of interest from the industry to bring in new satellite capacities, not only in the geostationary orbit (GSO) but also in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) systems.
What role has ISRO played in the growth of satellite broadband services in the country? What initiatives have you undertaken during the past year?
ISRO has already operationalised three high-throughput satellites (HTSs), providing 25 Gbps of capacity over India. These are used for connecting gram panchayats for broadband services. The fourth HTS, GSAT-20 with 48 Gbps, is planned for launch by NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a central public sector enterprise (CPSE) under the DOS, in end 2023. Ten operational satellites have been transferred to NSIL for better commercial exploitation while responding to market dynamics efficiently. With space sector reforms, Indian private players are expected to own and operate communication satellites for services all over the country.
How will the launch of 5G services impact satellite communication? How can the two technologies help bridge India’s digital divide?
5G technology provides much higher density and greater throughput. It is expected to bring in a better user experience and act as a platform for new applications in the consumer, enterprise, government and industrial domains. In order to facilitate digital access and realise its full potential, the satellite communication space must play the complementary role of providing last-mile connectivity, backhauling and critical redundancies. For the diversified geographical profile of India, 5G and satcom need to be put together to make a right blend of technology platforms to bridge the digital divide.
“With space sector reforms, we see a lot of interest from the industry to bring in new satellite capacities, not only in the geostationary orbit but also in non-geostationary orbit systems.”
What are your views on the National Frequency Allocation Plan 2022 released by the government? What other policy and regulatory initiatives are required for satcom to flourish in India?
The National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP) 2022 is a forward-looking document that aligns with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) frequency plans and also emphasises on the spectrum needs of our country. Further, it gives certainty to the industry for the development of ecosystems in both terrestrial and space-based services.
As a part of space sector reforms, IN-SPACe is already functional to play the vital role of hand-holding, promoting, monitoring and authorising space activities in the country. The Indian Space Policy is at the final stage of approval and is expected to pave the way for private Indian satcom players to own and operate communication satellites by building or purchasing or leasing them. Recently, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has also revised the regulations and statutory charges to promote the satcom industry. These are all significant steps towards enabling the space industry to flourish in India.
“With space sector reforms, Indian private players are expected to own and operate communication satellites for services all over the country.”
What role can the private sector play in enhancing the outreach of satellite broadband services? Could you outline the key partnerships that ISRO has entered into to scale up satellite broadband services in India?
In the reformed regime, private players can build satellites and launch them for meeting the domestic and foreign capacity requirement. They can bring their innovation or take technology and facility support from ISRO. Private players can also set up ground systems for satellite operations and utilisation.
The private sector has a greater role to play in enhancing the outreach of satellite broadband services in India. India, with a population of 1.4 billion, has wider opportunities for private players. They will be key partners to bring in innovations and capacities for contributing to the economy as well as support the government’s Digital India initiative. For instance, from the private sector, Hughes and Nelco have already rolled out high-throughput satellite-based services in the country.
What is your outlook for the satcom industry in 2023? What will be the key trends that will dominate this space?
For India, 2023 will be an important year in the satcom sphere. The enterprise and government segments are expected to grow significantly as several government programmes would reach maturity stage. This year, we may also see the advent of satellite-based consumer broadband taking shape in the country. NGSO constellations are expected to occupy a certain niche in the market apart from complementing the GSO systems. These would add further capacity to meet the needs of different market segments, such as mobility, satcom-based IoT, in-flight connectivity, etc. Secured communication requirements may also see a hike as a natural technological progression of strategic users.
“The Indian Space Policy is at the final stage of approval and is expected to pave the way for private Indian satcom players to own and operate communication satellites by building or purchasing or leasing them.”
What will ISRO’s key priorities be during 2023? Are there any new partnerships/initiatives that are in the pipeline?
ISRO’s key priorities in the coming years are going to be the Human Spaceflight, Upgrading Navigation and Space Exploration programmes. We are working on critical technology development for Gaganyaan, and scientific missions such as Aditya-L1 and Chandrayaan-3. We are also focusing on the development of next-generation launch vehicles to support future endeavours.