Larsen & Toubro, Nasscom and Tata Group entities are among those who have come out backing Elon Musk and Sunil Mittal over the issue of allocating spectrum for satellite communication services.
“The field of satellite communication is inherently intricate, and utilising auction-based models may result in outcomes that are less than optimal for the industry as a whole. Unlike conventional telecommunication services that mainly involve point-to-point communication, satellite communication necessitates substantial and contiguous spectrum blocks. An auction-based approach could potentially fragment the available spectrum, posing challenges for operators in delivering efficient services.,” L&T said in its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
“Numerous nations have encountered setbacks in auctioning spectrum for satellite services. As an illustration, the UK government’s auction of the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum for 5G services in 2018 failed to generate bids from prominent mobile operators. This failure was primarily attributed to the government’s establishment of lofty reserve prices. Comparable instances of unsuccessful auctions have been witnessed in countries including Australia, Germany,” L&T added.
IT industry body, Nasscom, said satellite spectrum, unlike terrestrial spectrum, can be shared among multiple service providers without diminishing what is available to others. Due to its non-exclusive nature, the existing well-established administrative route is the most efficient method of allocation.
Nasscom said auctioning spectrum would create an artificial limitation of the number of satellite operators sharing spectrum and impact services like broadcasting and broadband. It will also create entry barriers and limit participation in the satcom sector to only a few players, because auctions are expensive and for many small players, making such heavy investments in an auction may not be feasible, it added.
Tata group entities, Nelco and Tata Play, have also said auctioning spectrum would be a bad idea. “Unlike the terrestrial spectrum, satellite spectrum can be used simultaneously by multiple service providers around the world on a non-exclusionary basis. In other words, multiple satellite operators can use the same spectrum without excluding others. Because of its non-exclusive nature, space spectrum is not scarce, with no risk of individual players grabbing it,” Nelco said.
Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are, however, convinced that spectrum has to be auctioned. Reliance Jio is of the view that with rapid advancement in technology, the distance between terrestrial- and space-based communication is reducing, therefore, satellite spectrum services is a more flexible purpose, and can be used interchangeably for both space and traditional telecommunication purposes. Therefore, satellite spectrum should be auctioned.
A key component to make satellite broadband services operational in the country is the allocation of spectrum. The leading players, who could start offering high-speed Internet services using satellite technology in India this year or next, are Sunil Bharti Mittal’s OneWeb and Elon Musk’s Starlink, who have complete low-earth orbit (LEO) constellations already operational in certain parts of the world such as Europe and North America.
While Reliance Jio has also thrown its hat into the satellite broadband race in partnership with SES in 2022, experts believe it wishes to block the entry of LEO broadband players into India.