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Benefits of Musk’s Starlink for India far outweigh its costs

The government is expected to grant Elon Musk’s Starlink broadband service, based on low Earth orbit satellites, the license it has sought to operate in India. This would complement terrestrial connectivity and additionally become the primary means of internet access in large parts of India which are difficult to reach via terrestrial cables or tower to tower microwave links. other. The service is certainly more expensive, compared to the ultra-low-cost mobile broadband that Indians are used to, but cost-effective for remote areas. A competing satellite broadband service, OneWeb, would prevent monopoly pricing of satellite broadband access. OneWeb today launches 36 of its hundreds of satellites using the Indian Space Research Organization’s commercial launch facilities.

Access to reliable and reasonably fast Internet connectivity is a necessity in the modern world. It is recognized as a fundamental right in certain countries, France, for example, and, India too, has seen judicial decisions declaring access to the Internet as a fundamental right. This may be taken for granted in major Indian cities, but it is still a dream in many remote parts of the country. Therefore, the government launched the National Fiber Optic Network in 2011, to connect 250,000 grams of panchayats to fiber optic and wifi equipment that residents could use, at least near the Panchayat office, to connect.

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Failing several deadlines, and renamed BharatNet in 2015, the project continues and claims to have reached 187,245 panchayats. Of these, Wifi has been set up, according to the official website, in 104,293 panchayats, but wifi is only active in 53,600 locations. Obviously, the overland road to universal internet access will still take some time – India has over 600,000 villages, in addition to thousands of cities. It makes sense to use satellite broadband to allow remote areas of India’s vast expanse to be connected.

It should be recalled that Very Small Aperture Satellites (V-SAT) have provided Internet connectivity since the 1990s – several ATMs and ITC’s e-chaupal operated on the basis of a V-SAT link. Connecting via V-SAT is primitive compared to offerings from Starlink, OneWeb and others. Modern satellite internet connectivity has low latency – latency is the time between when an action is triggered and when it takes effect – unlike old fashioned satellite internet, thanks to the reliance on nearby satellites Earth, in low Earth orbit (LEO). Geostationary satellites are placed nearly 36,000 km from the planet, while LEOs are located between a hundred and a thousand kilometers above the Earth. When a signal has to bounce off a satellite thousands of miles away, it creates latency, whereas LEO satellites cause little latency.

The problem with communicating via LEO satellites is that you need hundreds or even thousands of these satellites for the job – the closer they are to the earth the faster they spin and have to bounce their signals off a number of satellites to reach the intended destination of the original signal. Starlink relies on thousands of satellites. Elon Musk’s Space X hopes to make money mainly from these Starlink satellites: its launch vehicles to reach the International Space Station or the moon or Mars are expensive and infrequent projects.

Can satellite internet be affordable? It depends on the volume of traffic. Starlink offers rates and terminal equipment charges in the United States that are only a fraction of the fees and charges charged overseas. If India can generate enough traffic, the costs can probably be negotiated down. OneWeb has a large stake in Bharti Airtel and competition between the two satellite services would drive down costs.

If all the major operators choose to use satellites for data backhaul in parts of the country with little fiber optic capacity, this should generate enough traffic to allow LEO satellite operators to lower their rates.

Ukraine depends on Starlink for vital battlefield communications. Can India afford to rely on a foreign service for its own strategic communication needs? It is not necessary and should not. It should have its own network of communications satellites under its own command for military communications, bolstered by anti-satellite attack capabilities.

When it comes to Starlink and OneWeb, the choice before India is the huge capital cost and time it would take to establish fiber optic terrestrial connectivity and operational expenses which would be higher than for terrestrial communications, when using satellites in LEOs. Given how quickly remote areas can be connected by satellite, this is a no-brainer. India is expected to open up to both Starlink and OneWeb along with other services when they are ready to operate in India. From India’s tax on online goods and services to new advances in financial inclusion and healthcare, much depends on continued access to broadband services. The social benefit of achieving ubiquitous broadband access far outweighs the cost involved.

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