India may see launch of satellite internet services early in the new year

'This will be a critical step forward to meet India’s ambition of providing internet connectivity for all.’ Sunil Bharti Mittal

An SES MEO satellite /

India may be an early mover in launching  satellite-based broadband internet services – thanks to  canny tie-ups of  the two leading Indian telecom providers, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio Infocomm, which  may see them  offer services early in 2024.

The Bharti group announced  November 21 that   the low earth orbiting  satellite services company OneWeb  in which it has the largest holding,  had received the  necessary authorisations to launch commercial satellite broadband services in India.  It only remains to receive allocation of spectrum from the government.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman  of the Bharti Group and co-chair of the Board of Directors of Eutelsat Group  with which OneWeb merged  in September,  said: “This will be a critical step forward to meet India’s ambition of providing internet connectivity for all.”

The company has also obtained in-principle approval to establish and operate two gateways in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, to provide  high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity to customers across India.

Linking remote regions

 On its part Reliance Jio Infocomm showed its own satellite broadband muscle by staging a demonstration inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and  cannily timed to coincide with the India Mobile Congress in Delhi last month.

It linked four remote locations -- Gir in Gujarat, Korba in Chhattisgarh, Nabarangpur in Odisha, and Jorhat, Assam – to showcase how satellite internet could be deployed  to  bring connectivity to regions of interior India where  there were no commercial broadband services.

Jio does not own or operate satellites of its own and depends on the network of  Luxembourg-based  satellite provider SES,   which owns networks of GEO (geosynchronous earth orbit)  and MEO (medium earth orbit) satellites.

OneWeb on the other hand --  thanks to the Eutelsat merger --now commands access to Leo ( low earth orbit) and GEO satellites.

Between them India’s two big mobile communication providers have effective access to GEO, MEO and LEO satellites, thus ensuring that as a purely national asset, India can tap all three classes of communication satellites, flying at different orbital heights above the earth and catering to different use cases.  A neat case of hedging one’s bets.