‘India SatCom 2021’, the 7th edition of Broadband India Forum’s (BIF) annual flagship event commenced on November 23, 2021.

The eminent speakers shared their views on the immense potential of satcom to augment the digital communications infrastructure and ecosystem in the country, and how it may be leveraged to help realise the national goal of ‘Broadband for All’, leading to a ‘Digital India’. They further deliberated on various technological solutions, business models and other critical policy and regulatory measures needed to bring Satcom into the mainstream, reduce cost, improve ease of doing business, and bring about more collaboration between the private and public sector, to enhance growth along with investment opportunities in this vital domain.

With a flurry of government measures on the policy as well as regulatory fronts in the recent times, satcom in India is well on its way to establish itself as a cost-effective means to achieve the goals and aspirations of a digital economy. Post the landmark announcement by the government in May 2020 to open up the sector for increased private participation and involvement as part of the first set of economic stimulus packages during the pandemic, a number of enabling and expeditious policy and regulatory measures including the introduction of the draft Spacecom Policy 2020 by the Department of Space (DoS); the new IR specifications released by TEC for Communication & Broadcast Networks for FSS/BSS; the landmark DCC approval which permitted use of Satcom for Cellular and Wi-Fi backhaul and TRAI’s forward-looking recommendations on “Licensing Framework for Satellite based connectivity for low bit rate applications” bear testimony to this new wave of liberalisation in the sector. These measures, along with those on the anvil, are expected to propel exponential growth in the sector and position satcom as a mainstream option along with terrestrial technologies to deliver Broadband to All.

Satellite internet could be an extremely effective solution for people residing in India’s rural or remote areas, where providing terrestrial connectivity is a challenge – both in terms of feasibility and cost competitiveness. This is simply because satellite connectivity is not associated with challenges of Right of Way, besides deployment costs of fibre and towers in inhospitable terrains associated with such areas. It is estimated that the cost of providing terrestrial connectivity in rural regions shoots up by almost 10-20 times, making it economically unviable for terrestrial technologies to reach the last 20 per cent of the population.

Presently, satellite penetration in India is only 0.3 million subscribers (as per ICRA), and all for enterprise use. This outlines the huge pent up demand and scope of growth for satcom services in India. This untapped potential, and the growing need to augment the quality and capacity of data connectivity services in line with the incredible uptake of the same – both in the urban and rural markets – necessitates that satcom be leveraged to extract optimum benefits and utility for the people.

Satellite broadband would propel development of unique use cases in various disciplines, including education, healthcare, disaster management, e-Governance, infotainment, agri-tech, transport and logistics, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), intelligent transport systems (ITS), aeronautical and maritime connectivity and connected vehicles are amongst several others. Satcom will play a major role in providing both connectivity as well as backhaul services to the networks for these crucial sectors. Since it is crucial that such key digital services are facilitated through various measures to reach the under-connected and unconnected effectively, mainstreaming Satcom would enable reaching out and delivering efficient internet connectivity to these remote locations in India, for enhanced digital inclusion.

With an enabling policy and regulatory framework that is technology neutral, ensures a level playing field and provides fair and non-discriminatory market access to any type of technology initiative, Satcom stands an excellent chance to help fulfil digital goals and aspirations of 1.3 billion citizens of the country.

Sharing his views, TV Ramachandran, BIF president, said, “The government has clearly demonstrated its intent to facilitate the use of the most advanced technologies like satcom for providing efficient, reliable and affordable digital connectivity to the Indian citizens. Thanks to the new initiatives from the government, coupled with a vibrant industry raring to get into action, we expect to see Satcom help bridge the digital divide, especially for providing inclusive connectivity to the farthest, remotest and most difficult-to-reach regions of the country. Liberalised mainstreaming of satellite communications will lend a cost-effective and reliable solution to augment Digital Inclusivity and would also be beneficial for our vision towards atmanirbharta and Industry 4.0, benefitting the urban enterprise subscribers for various use cases such as IoT, healthcare, agri-tech, supply chain management, transportation, etc. thereby further fuelling the economic growth of the country.”