VSAT: Digitally Connecting India
The Prime Minister of India had launched the ‘Digital India’ initiative, to bring the country together on the path to development, and stand up to the challenges of the 21st century, including the revival of the economy. One of the building blocks of this initiative to come to light, has been the availability of the internet, which needs infrastructure compatibility alongside secure and advanced services to match. In an exclusive interaction with CXOtoday, Shivaji Chatterjee, Senior Vice-President (Enterprise) at Hughes Communications India Ltd (HCIL) explains the role the company is playing in this initiative, and the journey along the way.
- What role is Hughes Communications playing in the Digital India project?
One of the core elements of Digital India is to bring every citizen across the country closer to experiencing the power of internet and digitization. Hughes with its proven prowess in ensuring end-to-end connectivity using VSAT technology is contributing to ‘Digital India’ by enabling unmatched connectivity across sectors including banking, e-governance, e-learning, healthcare, etc. In the last 20 months, over 200 million bank accounts have been opened and that’s largely due to the VSAT connectivity which has been put into many of the remote and unserved areas.
Providing reliable, fast last-mile connectivity is one of the key backbones of the Digital India project, which aims to digitally enable the entire country. We are playing an active role in providing next-generation solutions for high speed access to gram panchayats for the BharatNet program. We are actively involved in rural mobile coverage over satellite, eGov services like NREGA, JDY and NRHM to remote areas and promoting domestic manufacturing in satellite under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
- Which technologies do you see playing a pivotal role in India’s VSAT market?
From a technology standpoint, the next generation High Throughput Satellite (HTS) holds the potential to positively shape growth of India’s VSAT market. By reusing frequency, HTS enable operators to push more capacity through spot beams, which translates to lower prices and much higher bandwidths. Because of the cost savings, the technology has become very attractive, opening up many doors for satellite operators in emerging markets like India. HTS are very much capable of improving broadband penetration across the country. HTS-based Ka-band satellite-based networks are able to deliver affordable, immediate and ubiquitous broadband access to users.
Satellite broadband is a proven technology, delivering high-speed services to users worldwide but India’s broadband penetration currently at a low 10 percent or so. The enterprise segment is already the largest consumer of satellite broadband technologies, largely because of its ubiquitous availability and inherent reliability but individual customers are still left out due to higher costs and afford ability issues.
Among developing technologies, Internet satellite constellation startup, OneWeb which is working on low constellation satellites aims to bring lower latency, higher speeds and greater capacity with a fully interoperable geo earth orbiting satellite constellation, providing total capacity of over 10 TBs per second! OneWeb’s constellation consists of 720 satellites (40 spacecraft in each of the 18 orbital plans), in low Earth orbit, covering every corner of the globe.
- Could you also elaborate on some of the projects HCIL is working on, for this sector?
Hughes is one of the investors in the above mentioned project, OneWeb, and also one of the key technology contributors in making this path-breaking project and service possible. We are also working on providing a global GEO-HTS based satellite service leveraging its industry-leading JUPITER platform. This service is already operational in North and South America, targetting Enterprises, SMEs and consumers.
In India, we are working with various Government service providers as well as directly as a service provider to introduce the JUPITER platform to transform satellite broadband services to a much higher speed and quality of service dimension. There are many exciting projects in the country like BharatNet, universal mobile coverage, 4G back haul, content distribution, consumer broadband and so on.
- What are the challenges facing the company in the sector, and how would it overcome them?
In addition to the competitive nature of the business, the regulatory environment in India had been a major challenge in widening our portfolio of service offerings and delivering new services to the Indian market impacting our growth prospects. The regulatory environment provisions of Indian telecommunication services in India has been highly regulated. A significant part of Hughes’ business had largely been dependent on the use of satellite bandwidth capacity provided (directly and indirectly) by ISRO.
To unleash the power of satellite communication, India needs to revisit its Satcom policy to use this dormant resource for both immediate economic gains and strategic advantage. An intelligently controlled and yet open sky policy, inviting foreign and private sector investment, coupled with in- built fool proof safety and security mechanism, can have an unbelievable force multiplier effect on the economic growth of the country. Besides, it is important that we get access to the latest throughput, cost-effective technologies so that the best services can be offered to consumers in India.
A liberal Satcom policy would help achieve this objective expeditiously and also bring about wider participation by global service providers creating competition and lowering of tariffs thus increasing the much needed affordability and bringing about penetration of broadband in rural areas.
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