Can Starlink find its niche in India’s telecom market?
Starlinks license for internet services is sought by the Indian government
Starlink aims to provide high-speed internet facilities in rural parts of India. To understand the problem faced by Starlink you first need to know about Starlink and how will it provide the fastest internet services in rural parts of India.
Tesla’s CEO Elon musk started Starlink a network/constellation of satellites to provide high-speed internet access to even the parts of the world that are not connected with broadband providers. It allows people to connect to internet services with the help of a satellite dish which is placed in a suitable location near customers’ property.
For the past several years, 60 Starlink satellites have been launched weekly into low earth orbit with the help of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. There are more than 1600 satellites currently active in the low earth orbit and it is known to all that the number will grow in the future as SpaceX has filed paperwork for 42000 satellite constellation.
How does Starlink provide its services?
Starlink functions like any other satellite internet provider. they have internet connections on the group from where they are beamed into the space using different bands where the traffic is distributed and routed through a network of satellites, ultimately the client’s traffic is sent to the home-based ground station.
Component of starlink network
A) Ground station for internet exchange
The ground station is located near high bandwidth internet exchange points. These are actually the data centers where internet service providers converge networks and share bandwidth. These network exchanges allow Starlink to reduce latency and increase the bandwidth feeding their satellite constellation, eliminating bottlenecks on the ground.
B) VLEO constellations of satellite flying intersecting orbits
There are many satellite networks that operate at an orbital altitude of 750 miles above the surface of the earth on the other hand Starlink VLEO constellations are located at an altitude of 210 miles above the surface of Earth.
This 210-mile orbit is how Starlink delivers the record-breaking 15-20ms latencies, at the expense of shorter satellite lifetimes. Starlink satellites are much smaller in the size compared to a traditional satellite reducing the atmospheric drag.
C) Subscriber ground stations for end user connectivity
The ground stations SpaceX has designed for Starlink are innovative in every way. the dish uses features like phased array antennas and electronically controlled dish angles to keep connectivity strong regardless of the time of day or year. These features increase the gain for transmitting and receiving from the ground stations to the satellite constellation.
What makes starlink better?
SpaceX is uniquely positioned as a technology and aerospace leader, which makes Starlink a logical evolution of its service set. SpaceX created the world’s first reusable space launch vehicle, reducing satellite lifecycle costs. Additionally, they can serve a global population due to the sheer number of satellites they can launch and maintain.
The primary benefits of this orbit are the main claims that SpaceX makes about the Starlink internet service: that Starlink will cover most, if not all of the globe, with low-latency and average bandwidth connections at a competitive price. Starlink overcomes this limitation with the lower 210-mile orbit, reducing latencies to a very usable 25-30ms, and providing great bandwidth in the 50-150Mbps range.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), an executive branch of the Government of India, released a notice stating that Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Indian firm Starlink Satellite Communications Pvt. Ltd. is not legally authorized to provide satellite-based internet services in India.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has ordered the firm to adhere to the Indian regulatory framework and immediately suspend taking new pre-orders.
The core problem for Starlink in India, as in every other country all across the world, will be winning regulatory clearances for its services. It will be expensive and time-consuming. There is no universal license for offering services all over the world. Furthermore, there is no defined system for getting necessary approvals.
The development comes just weeks after, Starlink, Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite internet services, registered as Starlink satellite communication private Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary in India.The company’s signatories are Sanjay Bhargava, Starlink Country Director India, and Anand Prasad. Earlier this month, the company stated that it was considering partnering with Indian telecom operators.
Current status of starlink booking in India.
After receiving a warning from the department of telecommunications, India Elon musk-led company Starlink stopped its pre-booking in India. so currently if a user tries to pre-book Starlink’s internet service via the official website, they will see a new prompt reading, “Starlink is not yet available in your area but as we launch more satellites, we continue to expand our coverage area. Please check back for future availability in your area.”
Just after receiving the notification from DoT in November, Starlink got another warning from TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) on December 7, in a directive that has noted that Starlink should desist from soliciting business and related fees.
“Starlink Internet Services is required to desist from soliciting telecom business and collecting related fees etc, without having received necessary authorization and adhering to relevant statutory provisions,” ET quoted TRAI in a directive, 2021.
TRAI, in the letter, noted that the “soliciting of business for the provision of broadband service has to be in accordance with extant statutory provisions related to telecom services.”
Previously the company had started selling pre-bookings for $99 or approximately Rs 7500 last year. It is worth noting that Starlink has already sold more than 5,000 pre-bookings in India. The company had issued an apology email a few days back in November to people who had bought the pre-booking for delaying the delivery of Starlink.
Now, Starlink closed its pre-booking in India, the website now reads, “Starlink is not yet available in your area but as we launch more satellites, we continue to expand our coverage area. Please check back for future availability in your area.” Until now, Starlink was taking pre-orders for satellite broadband connection service for a refundable deposit of $99. Starlink had announced its plans to offer satellite broadband services in India starting December 2022.
Starlink’s current status in Indian market of telecommunication.
Sanjay Bhargava, head of Starlink India, had already shared on his LinkedIn that the company is hiring which clearly states that Starlink is all ready to take its game to next level in the Indian market. Bhargava said that there will be more jobs once the company gets the necessary regulatory approval.
This new entrant aims to have 2 lakh connections in India by December 2022, up to 80% of them being rural. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is expected to launch its service, Starlink, reportedly in December 2022 and will directly compete with telecom service providers like Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone-Idea. As of now, India’s top four broadband service providers have a market share of over 98% of the 80 crore existing connections in the country.
However, what will make Starlink stand apart is that, unlike others, it will be a satellite-based service. Its kit includes a dish antenna, a stand, its power supply, and a wifi router.
This difference is one reason for the excitement around SpaceX’s India entry. It is also why, despite the heavy competition, Starlink may not find making space for itself an uphill task.
Besides, customers are not rigid anymore. “Indian users are nowadays adapting to new changes. So Starlink might have a great response. Despite its confidence, however, Starlink’s success in India is not guaranteed.
For starters, a company that has promised services at subsidized rates but were still taking pre-orders at $99 (Rs 7,346), in addition to another Rs 37,000 that customers are to shell out for the “Starlink kit” – a huge ask from Indian rural customers. Monthly broadband rates in India are as low as Rs 399
Weather, too, may prove to be inclement for smooth services. Just like for satellite TV, satellite internet could be interrupted by a cloudy sky. There is no certainty if Starlink will offer voice calling services dependent on voice over internet protocol or not while the service could be carried around as it only requires a radio wire, switch, and a power source, it still cannot be as helpful as a cellphone. Thus experts point out that players like Jio may need not be worried as of now.