P.J. Nath, managing director and chief executive officer, Nelco

The continuously evolving satcom space has become a key factor for bridging India’s digital divide. Nelco, a prominent player in this domain, has been actively contributing to the growth of the industry by offering cutting-edge solutions and services. In an interview with tele.net, P.J. Nath, managing director and chief executive officer, Nelco, shares his views on the growth of satcom in India, the impact of 5G roll-out on satcom adoption and future trends…

How has India’s satcom industry evolved during the past year? How has Nelco contributed to the growth of satcom services?

India is emerging as a growth centre and has the potential to catch up with the global industry by leapfrogging ahead. Satellite communication in India is best suited for providing reliable data connectivity solutions, particularly in remote areas and difficult terrain. With an appropriate regulatory framework and technology advancements, satcom will enable the proliferation of digital services across various sectors in the remotest corners of the country.

The government is also working to provide an impetus to the Indian space industry, which can play an important role in the overall development of the economy. The proposed spacecom policy is ex­pected to further liberalise the regulatory framework for the space sector, providing a boost to the industry.

Nelco, a Tata Group company, is a leading satellite communication very small aperture terminal service provider in the country. Nelco is serving industry leaders in the major segments of the enterprise market. The company has also established itself as a leading in-flight and maritime connectivity player, serving both Aero IFC and maritime communication services in India. Its has partnered with multiple global players to enhance its offerings and reach.

Nelco’s approach is to remain technology agnostic and utilise multiple technology platforms to provide the most op­timal solutions for its diverse customer ba­se. The company also offers turnkey s­o­lu­ti­o­ns for satellite communication, whi­­ch in­clu­de setting up dedicated and private net­works. Adhering to its philosophy of delivering the most optimal soluti­on to its customers, Nelco has devised a strategy to access multi-orbit satellites. It plans to offer services using low earth orbit (LEO) satellites soon, apart from offering servi­ces using the geostationary satellites such as wide-beam and high-throughput satellite (HTS).

What will be the impact of the 5G service launch on the satcom space?

5G services have been launched to deliver both higher bandwidth and faster access to customers. Satcom will play a key role in the roll-out of 5G services and is likely to become even more mainstream as it converges with new technology standards. It will also continue to serve as a compleme­ntary solution for cellular backhaul connectivity for base transceiver station sites in rural and remote locations to enable network availability anywhere.

5G-enabled enhancements in satcom will deliver enhanced user experience, as well as increased utility and convenience for consumers. Moreover, satcom will support a resilient 5G network and help mitigate issues arising from the availability of terrestrial networks.

In the long run, satellite communication services will complement 5G cellular services to ensure the availability of 5G services on consumer mobile devices, which will automatically choose between the cell­u­lar network and the satellite network.

What role can satellite broadband play in bridging India’s digital divide?

India has emerged as the second-largest tele­com market in the world. Despite the growth in digital broadband connectivity, there are still large parts of India that re­main digitally unconnected. Satcom continues to be the most suitable technology to provide data connectivity in remote and rural locations due to its ability to de­ploy quickly, reliability, consistency, flexibility and scalability of services across all regions and terrain.

Satellite communication is transforming the rural economy by enabling village connectivity, financial inclusion, education and skill development programmes, heal­th­care and telemedicine, warehousing, public distribution systems and various ot­her applications in remote locations.

The new-age software-defined satellites will bring newer capabilities for satcom services, leading to the development of many new applications in the near future. Si­mi­larly, LEO satellites will be able to provide an alternative solution to terrestrial networks, particularly in the remote locations, ac­ting as “fibre-in-the-sky”, which will enable applications that require high bandwidth with fibre-like latency.

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 gro­wth in India?

The satcom industry in India has been more tightly regulated as compared to the telecom industry in the country as well as the satcom industry in other regions of the world. The good news is that the government is now seriously working towards modifying the regulatory framework for the satcom industry in India.

The Satellite Communication Policy Reforms, 2022 were a significant milestone for the industry. They streamlined and simplified several processes. We welcome the satcom-related reforms such as the online application of SACFA and clearance on self-undertaking, removal of mandatory performance verification and testing char­ges, and a simplified network operations and control centre process with a single-step procedure. We expect that these re­for­ms will ease procedures and streamline cl­earances to expedite the roll-out of satcom services, especially in rural and remote areas. The new TEC IR guidelines will give a fresh impetus to new services like satcom-based land mo­bility and internet of things (IoT). This will broaden the satcom market by un­locking a wide range of new industry use cases and applications.

From a regulatory enablement perspe­ctive, the key aspect is to facilitate the de­p­loyment of newer technologies req­uir­ed for various applications in terms of satellite technology, baseband technology, all­owing all frequency bands for satcom, newer antenna technologies and the re­duction of antenna size, etc. These steps will facilitate the emergence of new business models and enable the satcom industry to serve many more sectors and applications going forward.

How will Nelco’s recent collaborations with Telesat and Intelsat help address market needs and strengthen the company’s portfolio? What are the other partnerships that you are looking at in the coming year?

As India’s leading satcom service provider offering best-in-class services, Nelco has offered the Aero IFC services for more than two years and has plans to introduce these services to more airlines in collaboration with its global partners. Nelco’s collaboration with Intelsat enables Intelsat’s airline partners and passengers to enjoy end-to-end broadband coverage on domestic and international flights flying to or from an Indian airport, as well as aircraft flying over the country.

We also engage and partner with multiple satellite operators for offering optimal solutions for various segments and custo­mers. In the past year, in collaboration with Telesat, we successfully conducted our first in-orbit demonstration of high speed broadband connectivity using their Phase 1 LEO satellite. We continue to refine our co­mprehensive solution suite, including co­nnectivity and complementary services, through newer partnerships.

New technology advancements such as HTS, LEO and software-defined satellites are revolutionising the satcom industry. They have the potential to expand the rea­ch of broadband connectivity in India and can significantly increase internet penetration levels in India.

We are continuously evaluating areas whe­re we can achieve synergies through technology-agnostic partnerships by ad­op­ting satcom technologies best suited for specific segments and applications. We will continue to leverage existing and new pa­rtnerships on business and technology for value creation for our customers.

What is your outlook for the satcom industry in 2023? What are your growth plans and strategies for the year?

The global satcom market has been evolving at a rapid pace due to technological in­novations and large-scale investments, and this is expected to continue in 2023 and beyond. The Indian satcom market mirrors this trend. Changes in the satcom regulatory framework will also drive a much wider penetration of satcom.

The availability of new-age satellites in the country will enable the satcom industry to better serve high-bandwidth consu­mption segments like cellular backhaul, village connectivity and telecom networks, particularly in remote locations and difficult terrain. Ubiquitous 5G coverage en­ab­led through satellite networks is also expected to herald a new age in connectivity and will play a key role in many areas, including logistics, IoT and telemedicine.

Nelco has been a leading adopter of sa­t­com technologies and will continue to le­verage global technology advancements to serve a larger number of segments and ap­p­lications using geostationary orbit and non-geostationary orbit networks, software-defined satellites, new-age electronics and many more technologies as and when they are available.