Globalstar Inc, an American satellite communications company that provides emergency SOS services on Apple’s iPhones, has approached the Department of Telecommunications for clearance to launch its services in India. This could bring satcom services to Apple’s handsets in India in the near future. 

Sources close to the telecom ministry told businessline that the American satellite firm is interested in doing business in India. While it may not be viewed as disruptive, as Sunil Bharti Mittal’s OneWeb and Elon Musk’s Starlink are also eyeing India’s satcom market, it remains one of the few satcom firms that provide services through a product that is ubiquitous. 

As space technology matures further, low-earth orbit satellite constellations are one of the first monetisable businesses of the industry. With the upcoming liberalisation in the Indian space sector, several companies with LEO constellations are eyeing the India market. 

Notably the most disruptive would be the offer of high-speed communication or broadband services through these constellations to remote corners of the country. Companies like OneWeb and Starlink hope to bag defence contracts, USOF projects, and even private contracts in remote geographies like the Himalayas, where terrestrial telephony remains inaccessible. The satcom services also prove invaluable in situations where terrestrial communication services break down due to reasons such as natural disasters or wars. Starlink, for instance, was used during both the Ukraine and Gaza conflict. 

Although these services are seen to be truly disruptive, a key challenge in a price-conscious market like India, especially for telephony, would be affordability. Devices needed to capture these satellite services are expensive. According to Starlink, an access terminal needed to use its broadband services costs an additional $2,000 or ₹1.6 lakh. 

Apple was the first company to solve the “handset problem” to tap into satcom services. In 2023, the firm announced that its iPhone 14, iPhone 14 pro, iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 pro users can access emergency SOS services using satcom under exceptional circumstances where they are off-grid with no mobile or wi-fi coverage. This service is offered in collaboration with Globalstar’s LEO network. However, emergency SOS satcom communication is not available in India at the moment, because Globalstar does not have the regulatory clearance to operate in India. 

The Telecommunication Bill 2023 has eased the entry of private satellite companies into the Indian market, especially as it solved the key conundrum related to spectrum allocation. After nearly two years, the Centre decided on administrative allocation of satcom spectrum. Earlier, Indian telcos were lobbying for the auction of the airwaves used by satellite services as well, in a bid to restrict the entry of new private players.