India’s Telecom Policy that was release in 1999, had envisaged introduction of Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS) in the Ka-band of radio spectrum frequencies, in the 26.5–40 gigahertz (GHz) range. And obviously the regulator did not allow the premium 28 GHz spectrum for 5G services, as this would have hindered the satellite operations and lead to coverage gaps. Further, speculations are that by January 2023, the first of the ISP would be rolling out the Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS) for at-least the Corporate and Enterprise clients who may need a dedicated Bandwidth with throughput (Upstream and Downstream) ranging in Tbps (Terabytes Per Second).
Earlier this year (2022), there were reports in the media that Reliance Jio Infocomm’s newly formed satellite unit has applied to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite Services (GMPCS) licence, becoming the second telecom company after Bharti Airtel to enter the fray in the emerging Indian satcom ring.
What is the Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) technology all about?
Most of us are aware of/or have heard to Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) Closed User Group (CUG) Service and also the Ku-Band DTH Services; Both, these transmissions/communications in India mostly use the Ku-Band: Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) (11.7 to 12.7 GHz). The C-band frequency bands is also used for the VSAT Services (frequency band 4 to 8 GHz).
During the earlier part of the year 1990s, GMPCS had caused ripple in the communication domain and hence in the information and communications applications. A huge number of communications satellites were to be deployed on the Geostationary Orbit (GEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) [GEO at 36,000 KMs, MEO upto 10,000 KMs. and LEO upto 1000 KMs from the surface of the earth.], forming a seamless web of communication capabilities. Packing a GMPCS console in his suitcase, the globetrotting businessman was supposed to be able to stay connected to the company headquarters anywhere and anytime on the surface of the earth, this communication was non-invasive and would have happened even without the presence of GSM Towers and other Earth receiving/repeater means. The revolution did not catch due to technological barriers and the large input cost of fabrication/owning/launching/maintaining huge cost satellites in earths orbit. This GMPCS was to be a personal communication system providing transnational, regional or global coverage from a constellation of satellites accessible with small and easily transportable terminals. Whether the GMPCS satellite systems are geostationary or non-geostationary, fixed or mobile, broadband or narrowband, global or regional, the technology is capable of providing telecommunication services directly to end users. The GMPCS Technology and Services is capable of providing two-way voice communication, fax exchange, messaging solutions, data and even broadband multimedia.
The Roll-out of GMPCS satellite broadband internet service in India
Consultancy Experts like E&Y estimates that India’s satellite services market would grow to $4.7 billion by 2025 since nearly 75% of rural India does not have access to broadband as many locations are still without cellular or fibre connectivity. Many feel that India as a key emerging market for broadband from space services with an over $1 billion near-term annual revenue opportunity.
India’s GMPCS Service is covered under the Unified License (UL) w.e.f.19 August 2013, and the ‘Guidelines for Issue of Licence for Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) Service’ was issued on 01 November 2001 by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India.
Till now, only OneWeb in partnership with Bharti Airtel has applied for a GMPCS licence, for its services leveraging the company’s low-earth orbit (LEO) global satellite constellations (ET had reported in its 17 March 2022 edition that OneWeb has bagged the crucial GMPCS licence from the DoT). OneWeb plans to launch broadband-from-space services in India’s rural and remote regions by mid-2022. Hughes Communications India Pvt Ltd – a 67: 33 JV between US-based Hughes and Bharti Airtel – will distribute OneWeb’s satellite services in India. There are reports that Bharti has inked an agreement with New Space India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), to complete OneWeb’s low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite program. As part of this programme, NSIL is expected to launch its first satellite in mid-2022 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC)-SHAR, Sriharikota. This launch and their subsequent launches will add to OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation of 428 satellites 66% of the planned total fleet, to build a global network that will deliver high speed, low-latency connectivity.
In an Independent report it was informed that the India launch of Musk’s Starlink – originally was planned in 2022 – has been put on hold as an aftermath of the DoT and the telecom regulator recently issuing whip on the US firm’s Indian arm for taking pre-bookings without any licence or authorisation to offer satellite broadband services in the India. However, these reports are yet to be confirmed and there may be an official announcement on their participation. It has also been published in certain media reports that separate agreement between OneWeb and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to assure satellite launches, which was announced in March 2022, were to be executed with India in mind, this has been speculated, following the geopolitical tensions that have arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, and with business intent and early roll-out in India by the Elon Musk backed initiative.
Jeff Bezos-led Amazon, in the name of Project Kuiper, is also known to be eyeing the emerging satellite broadband market in India as part of its global space internet initiative.
Tata group company Nelco has also not been left out and it has also announced plans to partner with Canadian satellite player Telesat to launch satellite broadband services in India under the latter’s ‘Lightspeed’ brand by around 2024.
The Core Roll-out aspects of GMPCS and its Licencing Policy for India:
- Unlike the license conditions for internet services, the GMPCS license conditions do not specifically permit the setting up of international internet gateways for international connectivity. Instead, GMPCS operators are permitted to interconnect with other telecom service providers as long as those service providers continue to possess valid licenses issued by the DoT.
- ISPs are specifically permitted to seek ‘upstream internet connectivity’ from other ISPs. However, no such permission is given to GMPCS licensees in their license terms.
- The security conditions for GMPCS services include conditions which contemplate a predominantly voice-based service. For example, lawful interception and monitoring requirements for a GMPCS licensee include the monitoring of calls and not IP traffic. Also, unlike ISPs, GMPCS licensees do not have to block URLs in the interest of national security or public interest.
- The need is to come out with the GMPCS Policy for its use as a Satellite Broadband Internet service. This will be out in some time and will also be an enabler for Rural Internet Connectivity in India
The next revolution in the Internet Space in India, is just round the corner. The vast potential to make India Connected, to especially those places where Optical Fibre and Communication Towers have not been established, is what is driving international brands showing interest.
Security concerns are also the niche are as the market is yet evolving, and the potential is beyond imagination, especially when the population being covered along with the adoption of IPv6, which will enable more than 5 (five) devises can be accommodated with equal speed and identity to each of the 1.3 billion citizens.