Thursday, 02 December 2021

Starlink seeks key partnerships in India ahead of regulatory approval

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Thursday 07 October 21

SpaceX’s newly appointed country director for India says the Starlink will seek to team up with various industry players to boost rural broadband connectivity

At the end of last month, SpaceX announced the appointment of Sanjay Bhargava as Starlink’s Country Director India, effective from October 1st.    Bhargava had worked with Elon Musk as part of the founding team at PayPal around 20 years ago and since then has held a variety of roles, primarily at financial institutions.   Now, one week into his role, Bhargava has told the Economic Times that his initial goal was to enter discussions with India’s telcos, banks, hospitals, academic institutions…

At the end of last month, SpaceX announced the appointment of Sanjay Bhargava as Starlink’s Country Director India, effective from October 1st. 
 
Bhargava had worked with Elon Musk as part of the founding team at PayPal around 20 years ago and since then has held a variety of roles, primarily at financial institutions.
 
Now, one week into his role, Bhargava has told the Economic Times that his initial goal was to enter discussions with India’s telcos, banks, hospitals, academic institutions, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), in an effort to foster collaboration and ultimately boost rural broadband penetration. 
 
“[Elon Musk’s] very clear in his vision that broadband service providers of all shades, be it via satellites or mobile networks, have to collaborate with one another, and not compete, to take high-speed broadband to the under-served, and transform peoples’ lives in India and around the world,” he told the Economic Times.
 
In a LinkedIn post, Bhargava said that he was keen to engage with government representatives to discuss the goal of 100% broadband coverage in India, as well as hinting at Starlink’s initial rollout targets in the country.
 
“We will probably focus on ten rural Lok Sabha constituencies for 80% of the Starlink terminals shipped to India. The number of preorders from rural constituencies will be one factor that helps us select focus constituencies,” he explained in the post.
 
Despite launching around 1,600 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to date, Starlink’s broadband services are currently only available in US, Canada, Australia, Chile, the UK, and Portugal as part of its ongoing beta test. SpaceX announced its Indian launch plans in July this year and has been in lengthy discussions with the government and regulators over operating rights.
 
“The DoT [Department of Telecommunications] has no objections to SpaceX offering the Starlink satellite internet service in India. But it must comply with the laws of the land and seek an appropriate license and other authorisations before offering the service to Indian consumers,” a source had previously told the Economic Times.
 
But while regulatory approval has not yet been formally given to Starlink, the company has nonetheless begun accepting pre-orders for the beta version of the service. In an earlier LinkedIn post from Bhargava, he said that the company was targeting 200,000 terminals in India by 2022, with over 5,000 already pre-ordered.
 
But not everyone is happy about SpaceX’s progress in the India market, with Telecom Watchdog, a consumer forum and NGO, sending a letter to the DoT arguing that Starlink’s conduct regarding pre-orders is illegal. 
 
Telecom Watchdog said that Starlink’s decision to “take bookings and collect money from Indian customers in US dollars even without submitting an application for a licence is illegal and a serious offence under RBI Rules”.
 
The organisation was also critical of the DoT itself, saying that “this is happening right under the nose of the officers of your department who are simply doing nothing to stop such illegalities”.
 
Starlink had faced similar complaints earlier in the year from the Broadband India Forum, an organisation representing various players including OneWeb, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
 
Despite this opposition, Starlink nonetheless hopes to begin service in India in 2022, assuming permission is granted by the regulator. In August, Elon Musk said that SpaceX had shipped over a million Starlink terminals to customers in 14 countries.
 
 
Is satellite broadband going to change the world? Find out from the experts at this year's Total Telecom Congress
 

 

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