Last May, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced upcoming reforms to fortify India’s space-related growth. And, recently, the Department of Telecommunication’s Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) delivered. The TEC quietly planted the seeds for revolutionising Indian satellite communications (satcom).

Being responsible for laying down the engineering standards for telecommunications in India, TEC has, in one bold stroke, completely overhauled the erstwhile specifications and totally modernised them to suit today’s digital communication requirements and thereby providing the much-needed impetus for growth of the Indian satcom sector and serving the Digital India mission.

Earlier rules significantly stunted the ability of Indian satellite communications to deliver the best service to end-consumers. Prevailing for several years, they did not reflect the huge developments in technology. A simple illustration of this was the erstwhile imposed cap of total permissible data rate (that is, download plus upload) of 4 Mbps.

Today’s customers are of course demanding, but even if a service provider could through its technology offer a higher speed, that was not permitted by the regulation. In a typical peer regime abroad, satcom data plans featured speeds from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, a popular or median plan being one offering about 25 Mbps download speed. This is only the download data rate and obviously total rate would be much higher. Clearly, the Indian situation was quite sub-optimal.


Major reforms

The new DoT/TEC rules modernise the entire satcom ecosystem, and not just the above-mentioned two parameters. The current actions introduce broad sweeping reforms in as many as 13 key parameters of satcom service.

The new TEC/DoT rules and are fully aligned to the capabilities provided by the advancements in satcom technologies, namely High Throughput Satellites (HTS), Non-Geo Stationary Orbit (NGSO) Satellites — LEO, MEO, HEOs, etc.. These specifications also permit the use of High Capacity Millimetre Wave Frequencies in the Ka band, which were hitherto not permitted. These are also aligned to the directives of the National Digital Communications Policy 2018 and the TRAI recommendations made for the past several years.

Some of the specific customer benefits flowing from these revisions are:

Removal of caps on data rates (earlier pegged to 2 Mbps in STAR Configuration and 4 Mbps in MESH Configuration) will, with use of modern technologies, enable use of high speed and high throughput satellite based broadband services to the citizens.

Restriction on uplink data rates (earlier linked to fixed antenna sizes) have also been removed, permitting modern high capacity smaller antenna sizes which cater to huge data throughputs. This will bring down the space, power and cost requirements of the operators, while enabling high throughputs, thereby making broadband through satellites more efficient.

Modern technology , high capacity Ka bands have also been permitted (besides the Ku and C band now permitted) for use in both broadband and broadcasting, along with flexible and higher power limits at the satellite antenna. This will pave the way for high-capacity, high-speed broadband networks using satellites, and better quality of service.

Importantly , the reformed specifications apply to broadcast service including DTH, apart from communication service.

With the demolition of artificial technical barriers, TEC has opened the way to high quality satcom and will help us surge towards ubiquitous connectivity and 5G.

A vast subcontinent like ours, with highly diverse terrain, needs satellite communications much more than any other country. However, satcom penetration has been less deeper than in its global peers. Is it coming of age at last?

The writer is Honorary Fellow, IET (London), and President – Broadband India Forum. Views are personal. Research inputs by Debashish Bhattacharya