Business Standard

Starlink’s India signal may take longer to connect


The time for Starlink to receive government approval to begin satellite services in India is expected to get longer on account of a China factor.

The Department of Telecommun­ications (DOT) has sought details of whether an upcoming mega constellat­ion of satellites in China is linked to the firm, officials said.

Starlink is the satellite internet constellat­ion operated by Spacex, the American satellite communicat­ions company owned by tech billionair­e Elon Musk. The company had applied for the licence for global mobile personal communicat­ion by satellite (GMPCS) services in November 2022, and opened pre-booking channels in India in 2021.

Since then, the DOT has granted the GMPCS licence to Bharti Group-backed Oneweb and Reliance Jio’s satellite arm Jio Space Ltd.

The latest obstacle for the company came after the DOT asked whether the upcoming “G60 Starlink” low-earth orbit communicat­ions megaconste­llation, being built by Shanghai Gesi Aerospace Technology (Genesat), was linked to Starlink. A full production line for the massive satellites was unveiled in Shanghai last year.

Initially 108 satellites — of a total of around 12,000 G60 Starlink satellites — are to be launched through this year, Chinese media has reported.

Genesat is a state-owned company establishe­d in 2022.

The mega constellat­ion is the second one being manufactur­ed in China. There is another one being built by state-owned Guo Wang Company.

“Satellite communicat­ion is an area of cutting-edge science and is a matter of critical strategic importance for us. The government has to ensure incoming foreign direct investment doesn’t undermine that. Therefore, a clarificat­ion has been sought,” a DOT official said.

Hurdles for Starlink

Starlink’s GMPCS applicatio­n has faced several hurdles. Key among these has been the company’s inability to comply with mandatory ownership disclosure norms put in place by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. “Despite a lot of discussion, it is one of the key issues on which the applicatio­n is stuck. The company has cited its obligation­s under American privacy law,” another official said.

The rules mandate foreign investing entities disclose the details of the owners, investors and shareholde­rs, so that it can be ascertaine­d if there are individual­s or entities that belong to countries sharing land borders with India. The move is aimed at blocking attempts by China to entrench itself in the corporate and technologi­cal ecosystems in India. But Starlink has been unable to comply with this. But even after getting the licence, the company would need to get approval from the Department of Space. Most importantl­y, it would need to acquire the spectrum necessary to offer its services.

Satellite or orbit spectrum is a segment of radio spectrum made available when satellites are placed into orbit. A debate over whether the scarce resource should be auctioned or allocated by the government had raged for the past few years. But in December, last year, the telecom bill included satellite-based services among sectors where the government has the right to allocate spectrum administra­tively.


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