Bharti’s high-speed internet from OneWeb satellites in India by 2022; Co calls for light touch space policy

MUMBAI: Bharti Group expects to launch high-speed satellite internet services in India by early 2022 using the OneWeb satellite constellation and has sought help from India’s space agency to build affordable access terminals for deployment across the country, chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said on Thursday.

“OneWeb will be the world’s first low earth orbit (LEO) constellation flying about 648 satellites at 1,200 kms, covering every inch of the globe,” Mittal said during a webinar on ‘Unlocking India’s potential in the Space sector’.

“It is our deep desire along with support and cooperation from Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation), we get our landing rights, putting up ground stations across the country and start delivering the services by early 2022, once the constellation is complete,” he added.

In July, Bharti, which owns India’s second largest mobile operator, joined hands with the UK government to acquire OneWeb, a satellite company backed by Japan’s SoftBank that had gone bankrupt earlier this year.

The Bharti-led consortium will capitalise and operationalise the firm to offer internet services across the world.

OneWeb expects to do its first trials later next year in Europe, Mittal said.

Fibre connectivity or terrestrial radio connectivity to some parts of India are particularly challenging, especially in parts of Andaman & Nicobar islands, deserts of Rajasthan and forests in Madhya Pradesh. Satellite connectivity could, therefore, be helpful in delivering broadband internet access, he said.

In June, the government opened up the space sector, allowing private companies and startups to build satellites, launch them on their own rockets and offer applications to users, both in India and abroad.

It also mandated Isro to shift its operational satellites and rockets to a new entity, New Space India Ltd (NSIL).

The government also announced a regulatory body, Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre or IN-SPACe, to ensure a level playing field for startups and the private sector.

During the webinar, Uma Maheshwaran, scientific secretary to Isro, said the Space Activities Bill is in the final stages and will soon be put up before the Cabinet for approval before it is placed in Parliament.

The much-awaited legislation will provide a framework for the risks, liabilities and regulation of India’s space initiatives.

“For now, the industry can go ahead and start working with IN-SPACe to start their activity, but ultimately when the time comes for them to launch vehicles or when they are ready with satellites, the risks and liabilities and regulation must be ready. And, by that time, we will have the Act in place,” he said.

Mittal called for a regulation that allows better private sector participation in India’s space programme.

“My submission is that we should build a light touch policy, but very strong in terms of security of our nation and (strong in terms of) foreign policy. Some of these guidelines need to be laid out very clearly so the private sector participants know how we can operate in the overall policy framework,” he said.

Isro chairman K Sivan denied speculation that the space agency was being privatised.

“That is a misconception. Activities of Isro will be able to better utilise its resources in taking up capacity building and developmental activities,” he said.

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