A permutation of technologies will be needed to accomplish India’s digital objectives. While terrestrial and wireless systems are certainly a part of the mix, satellites will be crucial in penetrating and accessing gram panchayats. This is due to factors like terrain and the complexity of laying fibre, along with the prospect of low density at the end of many of these fibre lines.
MARRIAGES FOR VALUE
While Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are indeed an important innovation in space, we must remember that there is an incredible backlog of work by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other companies in the communications sector. In fact, geostationary satellites, as well as Medium Earth Orbits (MEO), continue to provide mission-critical services. Therefore, a single platform does not provide a solution to every issue. Depending on the nature of the application, the appropriate technology will have to be relied upon. For instance, in the case of a distributed broadcast video, geostationary satellites are going to be inevitably preferred. However, if the intention is to provide residential broadband, LEO satellites may be more suitable, as they have low latency and make efficient use of spectrum. Clearly, there is a whole range of technical solutions that can be pursued for different applications. It is the marriage and interoperability of these systems that ultimately bring value to the end-user, who is not overly concerned about the nature of the connectivity per se.
In so far as democratisation is concerned, deep-pocketed enterprises play a role in providing relevant infrastructure. At the layer of developing applications, however, there is an opportunity for small start-ups to contribute. This is precisely where innovation can take place. Not everyone needs to launch a satellite to be part of the space ecosystem. At the end of the day, what makes a difference to the life of villagers in rural areas is not the existence of a satellite but the application potential. In this context, it is worth recalling that ITC Limited has provided internet-linked solutions to rural farmers through their E-Choupal initiative. By installing computers with internet access, its programme has been able to provide real-time marketing and agricultural information to farmers, so that they have a better idea about the prices to be charged for their crops. Similarly, in the public sector domain, the E-Gram initiative of Gujarat offers important insights that assist in the strengthening of governance in panchayati raj institutions through satellite connectivity.
Spectrum is the single-most scarce resource in the space-com sector. Making efficient use of it and ensuring that India has adequate access will remain a key challenge. Furthermore, a global-coverage system will add another layer of complexity in this regard. Discussions about space often tend to overlook the fact that an equivalent amount of investment will have to be made on the ground in terms of the backhaul infrastructure. For instance, LEO systems, by their very definition, require teleports. The complexity of their deployment sits at the user terminal end. In fact, the antenna technology is believed to be more sophisticated than that of a fighter jet. Bearing this in mind, it will be critical to manage security issues related to LEOs, by requiring that the teleports be located on the Indian Territory and mandating that all traffic pass through here.
Deepak Mathur is Executive Vice-President, Global Sales, Video, at SES. Previously, he served as Senior Vice-President, Commercial, at SES for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. 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.