Satellite-based communication (satcom) networks have been in operation for decades, providing reliable pri­mary and backup services for various industries, including defence, banking (ATMs) and television. These networks ha­ve relied primarily on geostationary sa­tellites, placed far away from the earth’s orbit, to transmit communication signals. However, over the past few years, the use of satellites very close to the earth known as low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites has in­creased significantly, enabling the satcom industry to deliver high-speed and reliable broadband.

The modern satellite-based internet con­nectivity is slowly emerging as a pro­mising solution to overcome challenges associated with right of way and the considerable capex requirements for the roll-out of terrestrial technologies in rural and re­mote areas. While terrestrial connectivity mediums such as towers are feasible and economically viable to deploy in urban areas, the cost of providing terrestrial connectivity increases by 10-20 times in rural and remote areas. Meanwhile, given its pro­mise of ultra-low latency, satellite broad­band also holds the potential to facilitate the growth of next-generation technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), cloud computing and 5G. Accor­ding to industry estimates, the global satcom industry is expected to be worth $141 billion by 2030, with over 53 million subscribers leveraging satellite services for the­ir communication needs by that year.

Enabling role in the proliferation of next-generation technologies

The role of satellite broadband becomes pa­rticularly critical in mission-critical applications such as disaster management, emergency healthcare and defence, which re­quire highly reliable connectivity with near-zero latency. Moreover, satellite connectivity is the only possible mode of broadband communication in places whe­re terrestrial networks cannot exist. For ins­tance, IoT sensors in tracking devices on cargo containers being shipped across oce­ans can be powered through satellite communication. Satcom can, therefore, ensure service continuity for IoT devices and connected/autonomous vehicles by pro­viding reliable communications and su­pp­orting software updates on moving platforms such as passenger vehicles, aircraft, ships, trains and buses. Satellite-based connectivity can also help transport operators travelling ac­ross different countries avoid paying for multiple wireless carriers along the route, in order to ensure a continuous operation of embedded IoT devices.

Similarly, broadband access through satellites can help enterprises enhance the­ir experience of using cloud platforms for storing, hosting and managing their data. Cloud connectivity requires robust and high throughput bandwidth, which can be pro­vided through satellite broadband. Mo­­re­­over, satellite-based connectivity hel­ps avert network outages that may occ­ur in terrestrial networks because of cable cuts, natural calamities, etc.

Satellite networks can also help telecom players realise the full potential of 5G services. Multiple successful demons­trati­ons have shown that satellites can support key technological features in 5G networks, such as software-defined networking, network function virtualisation and multi-access edge computing. Using satcom, op­erators can extend the reach of limited terrestrial 5G networks to underserved areas and places that terrestrial networks cannot cover.

Indian market upbeat about the satcom opp­ortunity

For the Indian market, satellite networks offer a viable means to provide broadband in rural and remote areas. Bharat Broad­band Network Limited (BBNL), which is implementing the government’s Bharat­Net project, is planning to deploy satellite-based internet networks in 7,000 gram panchayats where deploying fibre is not feasible. Four satellite gateways, including two high throughput satellites (HTS), will be used to provide high-speed broadband connectivity to these 7,000 gram panchayats. Meanwhile, BBNL is also planning to offer its satellite internet services in the northeastern states. It has already initiated a pilot of its services in hilly and remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh.

Private telecom players are also looking at satellite communication as a pro­mising alternative to meeting the ever-growing connectivity requirements of users, both individuals as well as enterprises. Bharti Airtel has taken the lead in this regard. In April 2022, the operator’s satellite arm, OneWeb received the global mobile personal communication by sa­tellite (GMPCS) licence, making it eligible to provide satcom services in the country. OneWeb plans to launch its satellite broadband services in mid-2023 and will focus on providing satellite services for enterprises across industries, Wi-Fi on airlines, emergency services and de­fen­ce applications. OneWeb has also signed a strategic six-year distribution agreement with the satellite service pro­vi­der, Hughes Network Systems, to provide satellite broadband ser­vices across India. OneWeb had laun­ched 428 of its total planned 648 LEO satellites by February 2022. It recently partnered with New Spa­ce India Limited (NSIL), the comm­ercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), to complete its satellite launch programme. In October 2022, NSIL launched 36 of OneWeb’s sa­tellites into space.

Meanwhile, Jio Satellite Communica­ti­o­ns Limited, the satcom arm of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL), has also re­ceived a letter of intent (LoI) for GMPCS services from the Department of Tele­co­mmunications. The LoI allows the operator to set up and operate GMPCS services in licensed service areas and provide high-speed broadband-from-space services. The licence is for a period of 20 ye­ars and includes the permission to offer voice and data services via satellite. Ear­lier in February 2022, RJIL had formed a joint venture with SES Luxembourg, a global satellite communications company, to la­un­ch broadband services in India th­rough satellites. The Tata Group is also planning to enter the Indian satellite broadband se­ctor in partnership with the Canada-based Telesat. Earlier, in Sep­tem­ber 2020, Nel­co, a Tata Group company, had partnered with Telesat to offer enterprise broadband services based on the latter’s LEO satellites.

Satcom policy landscape in India

The Indian government is actively working to create a conducive policy environment to accelerate the adoption of satellite-based telecom networks. Strengthen­ing satellite communication technologies in India is one of the major thrust areas of the Na­tional Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018. The policy calls for a re­view of the regulatory regime for satellite communication technologies, including revising licensing and regulatory conditions that limit the use of satellite communications, such as speed barriers, band allocation, etc. It also recommends simplifying compliance requirements for VSAT operators to ensure faster roll-outs. Further, the policy advocates making available new spectrum bands (such as Ka Band) for sa­tellite-based commercial communication services, rationalising spectrum charges for satcom and asssessing bandwidth demands across various spectrum bands, in consultation with stakeholders.

In line with the recommendations of NDCP 2018, the government in June 2020 approved private sector participation in space activities. Subsequently, the In­dian National Space Promotion and Au­­tho­risation Centre (IN-SPACe) was ann­ounced to provide a level-playing field for private companies in satellite design, manufacturing, launch and space-based services and applications. Further, in October 2020, ISRO released the draft spacecom policy with a view to regulating the commercial use of orbital slots, satellites and ground stations for communication needs in India and encourage participation of pri­vate players in space-based communication. The industry is now keenly awaiting the release of the final comprehensive policy that will spell out how the government’s initiative of opening up the space sector will be executed. Meanwhile, the government has also allo­wed very sma­ll aperture terminal (VSAT) operators to provide satellite-based cellular backhaul connectivity to telecom operators to en­sure uninterrupted mobile broadband coverage in remote and far-flung regions.

On the regulatory front, in August 2021, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released its recommen­dati­ons for creating a licensing framework for satellite-based connectivity for low bit rate applications such as ATM, IoT and traffic management. The regulator recommended that all types of satellites, including geostationary orbit (GSO) and non-GSO satellites and any of the permitted satellite frequency bands, be used to provide satellite-based low-bit-rate connectivity. Further, as per TRAI, service licen­sees should be permitted to obtain satellite bandwidth from foreign satellites in all the permitted satellite bands to provide satellite-based services. The regulator further recommended that the government develop a road map detailing the launch schedule of communication satellites and the av­ailability of domestic satellite capacities in India to facilitate service licensees to plan and optimise capacity procurement.

Meanwhile, the mode of spectrum all­o­cation for satellite networks has emer­g­ed as a contentious issue between the government and the satcom industry. While in­dustry players have advocated administrative allocation of satellite spectrum in line with global practices, the government is pushing for spectrum auction.


Satellite-based communication networks have emerged as a promising alternative to delivering high-speed and reliable internet services in rural and remote areas. As the technology achieves mass commercialisation, several use cases of satellite broadband will likely emerge for individual users as well. Satellite networks also hold the potential to unleash the full potential of next-generation technologies such as 5G, cloud and IoT.

India has emerged as a significant player in the global space communication sector. Going forward, a conducive policy co­mprising international best practices to ensure growth and greater participation of private players in the space communication sector will enable India to keep pace with the growing demand for satellite-ba­sed network connectivity.