Satellite broadband represents the future of communication. It will be critical in building ubiquitous connectivity across the globe. However, extending fibre to every home remains a priority since that is the mainstay of most communication requirements.
In many parts of the country, tremendous forays have been made in the spread of 4G. A lot of work has also been done to bring 5G into effect. Fiberisation is proceeding at a very brisk pace. The number of homes being covered is expected to go up to 50,000 a day, which will be a huge boost to connectivity. It cannot be denied, however, that there are many parts of the country that remain unamenable to terrestrial technologies. This makes space the final frontier.
Low Earth Orbit constellations and their deployment by SpaceX represent a truly exciting prospect. Together with the opening up of the space sector in India, it portends immense opportunities for startups and other telecommunications companies to harness their true potential. Coupled with the low costs associated with the Indian space programme, this will be a real asset in the years to come. Many enterprises are adding software products to the mix.
In the electronics sphere, India seems to have made a comeback from its low-point 10 years ago. Over the last five years, the rate of growth has been fixed at 23 per cent compounded on a year-on-year basis. This is expected to increase even further. There is, therefore, great momentum in creating a base for software manufacturing companies. They have been provided with an enabling environment to pursue skilled competencies and design products that combine hardware and software solutions.
The time is now ripe to direct these efforts at satellite constellations. However, there is a significant entry barrier that needs to be addressed. Any company that breaks into this segment needs to have deep pockets, along with a huge appetite for risk.
It is important to democratise this sector. Small companies need to be incentivised into participating in satellite broadband activities without taking ownership of an entire constellation. Government policies should make risk capital available at different stages for these enterprises.
Once these bottlenecks have been addressed, imagination will be the only barrier in scaling greater heights.
Ajay Prakash Sawhney is Secretary to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India. This article is written by the Synergia Research team based on insights shared by the expert at the round table titled ‘Empowering the Internet through Space: Limitations, challenges, and the future’ on 21 January 2021.