Satellite Internet revolution in India

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India is on the threshold of a connectivity revolution as Orbit Connect India, a joint venture between Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms and Luxembourg-based SES, has secured necessary approvals to operate satellites in the country. This is a major step for India as a whole in achieving rapid satellite-based internet connectivity over the diverse expanse of the country.

The joint venture, approved by the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) in April and June this year, authorizes Orbit Connect to operate satellites over India. However, an exclusive report from Reuters claimed that the services require an approval from the Department of Telecommunications before commencement. So far, the partnership of Jio Platforms with SES promises the delivery of gigabit internet from space that can help to ease the blanket of inaccessibility on India’s internet and digital infrastructure.

A competitive frontier

The satellite internet space in India is growing more competitive, with global behemoths such as Amazon’s Kuiper and Elon Musk’s Starlink vying for a spot. Together with established competitors such as Eutelsat’s Bharti Enterprises-backed OneWeb, which acquired all necessary permissions last year, these firms are positioned to capitalize on the growing market. According to Deloitte, India’s satellite broadband service market is expected to increase by 36% per year, reaching a stunning US$1.9 billion in 2030.

According to IN-SPACe Chairman Pawan Goenka, the competition would likely drive innovation and competitive pricing amongst the new entrants. Goenka expects the “comparatively low pricing of communication services” in India to force global players to innovate to lower pricing, pointing out how multinational corporations with established Indian operations have historically adapted to meet Indian consumers’ high-performance, low-cost expectations in other sectors, such as automotive.

Jio’s dominance and prospects

Reliance Jio already has a dominant position in India’s telco market, with more than 52% of all broadband subscribers in the country as of March 2024 at a whopping 481.07 million. According to data by Daze Info, it has disrupted the digital landscape ever since Jio launched in 2016, propelling India to the forefront of global mobile data consumption. Before Jio’s entry, India ranked 155th in mobile data usage globally, but within a year, it surged to the top spot, surpassing countries like the USA and the UK.

These strategic plays by Jio have resulted in some impressive numbers — by March 2024; total data consumption stood at 40.9 billion GB with per-capita consumption of 28.7 GB per month. Jio also has 108 million 5G subscribers, giving the Indian operator the most extensive 5G customer base outside China. This key market position gives Jio a significant leg up as it prepares to launch satellite internet.

The government’s role in the satellite Internet boom

The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has played a vital role in the growth of the space business. The recent permission for 100% foreign direct investment in satellite manufacturing components without prior clearance has sparked significant investor interest.

According to Goenka, this policy move has resulted in a significant rise in investments, with statistics going from US$2 million-US$7 million last year to US$20 million-US$30 million this year. “The proof of concept has happened,” Goenka told Reuters, emphasizing the growing confidence in India’s space sector.

Furthermore, the Telecommunications Bill 2023, passed by Parliament, has accelerated the allocation of satellite airwaves, allowing significant firms such as Bharti Group-backed OneWeb, Reliance Jio Satellite Communications Ltd, and Elon Musk’s Starlink to begin operations. This legislative backing is projected to speed up the commercial deployment of satellite broadband in India as early as 2024.

Globally, the race to connect rural and remote areas through satellite internet is intensifying. Amazon plans to invest US$10 billion in its Kuiper project, and SpaceX’s Starlink continues to expand its satellite network. Recently, Sri Lanka granted preliminary approval to Starlink, showcasing the regional momentum towards satellite internet solutions.

A new dawn for digital India

With India’s satellite broadband market becoming clearer, it is supposed to close the digital divide—particularly in rural and underserved regions. This will pave the way for the entry of several international and regional players, triggering competition, innovation, and affordability. This will likely translate into better connectivity, faster speeds, and broader spectrum availability for consumers.

From a professional standpoint, it promises incredible technological growth and economic prosperity. As Jio and its competitors gear up to launch satellite internet services, India stands on the cusp of a digital transformation that could redefine its connectivity landscape and set a precedent for the rest of the world.

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