Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 19 August 2023

India’s first ‘satellite network portal site’

Source: By Sohini Ghosh: The Indian Express

The Gujarat government through its Department of Science and Technology (DST) signed a memorandum of understanding with OneWeb India Communications Pvt Ltd for setting up a ‘satellite network portal site’ — a first for India — at Mehsana in Gujarat.

Satellite network portal site and the technology involved

Satellite broadband technology or satellite telephony is not a new concept and with satellite constellations in the low Earth orbit (LEO) gaining traction with StarLinkKuiper and OneWeb among many others, the world is increasingly moving towards relying on LEO satellite communications.

LEO satellites operate at an altitude of 500 to 1,200 km, making it ripe for high-speed and low latency — a lower time lag between a user seeking data, and the server sending that data, compared to geostationary Earth orbit positioned satellites.

OneWeb has 648 satellites orbiting at 1,000-1,200 km making 13 orbits per day, covering the entire globe. The satellite network portal (SNP) site will serve as a signal and data downlink and uplink terminal or base station on the ground, an intermediary for data transmission through satellite tracking antenna systems.

Rahul Vatts, director of OneWeb India Communications, said, “To cover the entire Earth, we need 40 such SNPs but for India we need at least 2 such SNPs because India is such a large geography and we decided to set up one in Gujarat and another we are planning in the southern part of India, likely to be in Tamil Nadu.”

As per the financial year 2021-2022 annual report of OneWeb, it had nine operational SNP sites serving the live coverage area and at the time, had agreements to build 38 SNPs in 27 different countries.

Investment, Infrastructure, Regulatory Approvals

OneWeb India Communications plans to invest up to Rs 100 crore in this project, which would, according to the Gujarat government, create 500 direct and indirect jobs, including jobs requiring telecom, electronics and instrumentation engineers.

Vatts said, “Firstly, we need large tracts of land because we are going to set up around 20 giant-sized antennas, for which we need around 20 acres of land. We require a very solid foundation as well, on which those antennas will be set up. We have to tilt those antennas towards the satellite and such setups cannot be in very crowded places because then there will be interference (in the signals) and we also require fibre connectivity because it has to connect to fibre PoP (point of presence). So it is a lot of civil infrastructure work along with electronics. There are similar centres running in parts of CanadaNorwaythe UKVirginia in the USA.”

Twenty-five acres of land has been acquired for the project by OneWeb, according to Gujarat government officials, and once the civil infrastructure is in place, Vatts said technical and scientific testing shall be undertaken on the curvature of the land area and how it will interact with the satellites and the tilt of antennas. “If the tilt is good, we may then require fewer antenna installations,” he added.

Apart from civil infrastructure, setting up an SNP like this will also require a slew of regulatory approvals from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) and spectrum allocation from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). “We would require approval and authorisation from IN-SPACe, situated in Ahmedabad, as it is the space regulatory body in India now and we are in talks with them for the same with IN-SPACe already considering our application. Another component is the availability of the spectrum for which TRAI and DoT (Department of Telecom) are in consultation,” Vatts mentioned.

Why Gujarat and the role of DST, Gujarat in this deal

Noting that the decision to set up an SNP in Gujarat was a combination of geographical and business interests, Vatts explained, “One is, you require suitable geography since we want to cover/cater to the maritime sector also.” Gujarat has the longest coastline in India. “We also based our decision of choosing Gujarat on the kind of policy and incentives available. We chose to be in Gujarat because we see a favourable business climate for ourselves and also it is a place where business moves faster.”

Elaborating on the role DST Gujarat will play, Vijay Nehra, secretary of DST, Gujarat said, “DST handles telecommunications and it also handles the Gujarat Electronics Policy (Effected in October 2022, valid till 2028). So an investment of this scale requires fiscalnon-fiscal incentives and assistance with regulatory and statutory approvals, such as change of land usebuilding permits, and fibre connectivity, which we (DST Gujarat) shall be facilitating as part of the MoU.”

OneWeb’s growing footprint in India

Though OneWeb is UK-basedIndia’s Bharti Enterprises serves as a major investor and shareholder in the company, and Bharti Enterprises’ founder Sunil Bharti Mittal serves as OneWeb’s executive chairman. The annual report of OneWeb for the financial year 2021-22 noted that the company’s launch schedule was “impacted by geo-political tensions arising from the Russia-Ukraine war and as a result, the six remaining launches required for our first generation of satellites (GEN 1) global coverage were postponed.”

This, however, worked in India’s favour which ended up launching 36 GEN 1 satellites of OneWeb on 26 March 2023 from aboard Launch Vehicle Mark-3 from Sriharikota. For the SNP set-ups in India, OneWeb India Communications will be receiving the capacity from the UK parent company to sell in India. Meanwhile, OneWeb has appointed Hughes Communications India Private Ltd (HCIPL) — a joint venture between Hughes and Bharti Airtel Limited — as its distributor, which will sell the end-user services in India.

Earlier, HCIPL and OneWeb, in January 2022, announced a strategic six-year Distribution Partner agreement to provide low Earth orbit (LEO) connectivity services across India, to deliver services to enterprises and government with OneWeb capacity, especially in areas outside the reach of fibre connectivity.

Book A Free Counseling Session