Info-tech

Telecom panel okays policy for satellite phones

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on November 25, 2017

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Paves way for BSNL-INMARSAT deal

The Telecom Commission has given the approval for introducing satellite-based mobile services in the country. The approval comes after a recommendation from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to introduce a regulatory mechanism to govern satellite phones.

Initially, the services will be offered by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd through a partnership with INMARSAT.

Satellites provide telephone and broadcasting services, covering large geographical areas. A satellite-based communication system provides an ideal solution for connecting remote and inaccessible areas. In addition, satellite communication is widely used for the transmission of emergency traffic, such as distress and safety messages, to and from vessels at sea or remote locations.

Currently, in India, the satellite services of INMARSAT are used by maritime users through the Tata Communications Ltd under its international long-distance licence. Some limited number of users of land mobile have also been permitted by the DoT on a case-to-case basis.

INMARSAT or International Mobile Satellite Organisation provides its satellite services with a constellation of four satellites which are located in the Geo-stationary earth orbit.

Global coverage

These constellations of satellites provide global coverage. The present constellation, namely, I-3 satellites were launched in 1996. In view of the aging of these satellites, the INMARSAT has announced the retirement of some of its services from these old satellites starting from September 2014. INMARSAT has, meanwhile, launched the next generation satellites services.

While the INMARSAT services cater to maritime communication, the Government had envisaged satellite services, namely, Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) in the new telecom policy 1999. Under this licence, satellite-based communication services were permitted.

However, establishment of GMPCS Gateway in India by the licensee was a mandatory license condition, which dampened interest from potential investors. This required substantial financial expenditure which was not feasible to be recovered from the limited number of users.

Until now, DoT was giving permission to procure the INMARSAT handsets and taking services from a foreign service provider was given to meet the requirement of paramilitary forces and disaster management.

However, there are security related limitations in this arrangement.

There is a possibility of monitoring of calls outside the country as the earth station is located outside the country.

In view of the above drawbacks, the Defence forces have not procured these handsets. They are continuing to use the old terminals.

However, as declared by the INMARSAT, some of these old terminals will cease to be supported by their satellites from September.

Thus, the decision by the Telecom Commission to permit BSNL to offer satellite services could help tide over the problems.

“It is a step in the right direction. This policy has been much delayed. Hopefully, this will trigger the Government to move ahead on other policy issues related to satellite communication,” said BK Syngal, Former Chairman, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

Published on June 17, 2014

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