SpaceX seeks DoT permit to launch Starlink in India

The world’s richest man Elon Musk-owned SpaceX has applied to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for a global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) licence to launch broadband-from-space services in India under its Starlink brand.

The US satcom company has applied for the licence last week, officials said.

“SpaceX had earlier applied for an experimental license but withdrew it later. They have now applied for a GMPCS licence,” an official privy to the details told ET.

SpaceX is the third company to seek such a permit. DoT has already granted GMPCS licences to Bharti Group-backed OneWeb and Reliance Jio Infocomm’s satellite arm.

An email sent to SpaceX remained unanswered as of press time Monday.

ET had reported on October 12 that SpaceX would shortly apply for the license.

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DoT officials, however, said getting a GMPCS licence does not mean that SpaceX can soon start services. After getting the licence, the company needs to get approval from the Department of Space and after that get spectrum allocated for offering services.

SpaceX will also need to establish in-country earth stations (satellite gateways) and deploy its global satellite bandwidth capacity in India.

These clearances will have to come from the Indian National Space Promotion & Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), a central regulatory body mandated to attract private capital in the space sector.

Competition is intensifying in India’s relatively nascent broadband-from-space services segment, which could be worth $13 billion by 2025, with Jio, OneWeb, Nelco of the Tata Group, Canada’s Telesat, and Amazon, too, exploring launch of satellite broadband services in India.

Only three companies including SpaceX have sought licence from DoT so far, officials said.

Nelco and Telesat have done a proof of concept (PoC) but since the constellation is not ready yet, they have not applied for a licence.

Last year, SpaceX was forced to return pre-booking money to people in the country after DoT told the company to seek the regulatory approvals first before taking any pre-orders for its services.

According to a recent EY-ISpA report, India’s space economy is poised to grow to $13 billion by 2025 at a compounded annual growth rate of 6%. Nearly 75% of rural India does not have access to broadband as many locations are still without cellular or fibre connectivity.

Experts, however, said satellite broadband services are likely to be launched in India only once there is clarity over the new space communications policy, including the mode of spectrum allocation for satellite communications. DoT is awaiting the recommendations of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on the matter.

Satellite companies have repeatedly called on the government to ensure that spectrum for space internet services is given administratively – and not via auctions – as is done in the rest of the world so that the sector can grow. Telcos such as Jio and Vodafone Idea have said all spectrum should be auctioned.

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