SpaceX’s Starlink Indian chief considers pacts with others in space

Tech billionaire and SpaceX founder Elon Musk says satellite and mobile broadband operators “must collaborate and not compete” to ensure 100% broadband coverage in India and improve the quality of people’s lives, Sanjay Bhargava, SpaceX’s new Indian chief Operation Starlink, said.

During his first exclusive interaction with the media, Bhargava told ET that his immediate mandate, following an hour-long meeting with Musk, is to engage with CEOs of major telecom operators, banks, hospitals, Indian academic institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to enter into potential collaborative pacts to boost rural broadband connectivity.

“He (Elon Musk) made it clear his vision that broadband providers of all shades, whether through satellites or mobile networks, should collaborate with each other, not compete with each other, to bring broadband to the underserved, and transform the lives of people in India and around the world… especially since the two technologies are totally different, ”said Bhargava.

His comments echo those of Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of satcom rival OneWeb – backed by Bharti Global and the UK government – who also said his broadband services from space would work with telecom operators to provide high-speed Internet services in remote areas. zones through a business-to-business model, and not a business-to-consumer model of mobile phone companies.

The goal in India, said Bhargava, is “to also use satellite broadband (technologies) for disruptive innovations” in various industry verticals. “This will likely be the focus of my future discussions with the heads of major telecom operators, banks, healthcare units and educational institutions.”

Bhargava, who took over SpaceX’s satellite broadband operations in India on October 1 as Country Director for Starlink, had previously worked with Musk as part of a global team that founded the electronic payment company PayPal. .

His comments come as OneWeb, SpaceX, Amazon and the Tata-Telesat combination, backed by Bharti, prepare to enter the relatively nascent fast broadband segment from space, taking advantage of their respective constellations of satellites. in low earth orbit (LEO). India is seen as a key emerging satellite Internet market with an annual revenue opportunity of over $ 1 billion. Indeed, nearly 75% of rural India still does not have broadband access, as many places do not have cellular or fiber connectivity. LEO satellite systems are seen as a viable alternative.

Bhargava recently said in a post on LinkedIn that SpaceX would focus on 10 rural constituencies of Lok Sabha for 80% of the terminals shipped to India, and that the company’s Starlink satellite broadband services in the country were aiming to reach 200,000. terminals active by December 2022, subject to regulatory approvals.

A wholly owned branch of SpaceX India will shortly seek government approval to launch satellite broadband services in India next year. The company, however, has yet to take a call to only get a GMPCS (Global Mobile Personal Communications Satellite Services) license or a combination of NLD (National Long Distance) and GMPCS licenses, like OneWeb, backed by Bharti, to provide satellite services. broadband services.

Bhargava, however, declined to comment on telecom operators wanting the government to auction the 28 GHz millimeter wave band – currently used by satcom players – for 5G mobile broadband services.

He also declined to comment on the US aerospace company’s plans to manufacture satellite equipment locally in India.

An industry insider, however, said SpaceX could be opened up to local manufacturing of satellite antennas / terminals in India if there is strong domestic demand and the volumes to justify, in which case it could produce locally a such equipment for domestic and export markets.

In July, a senior SpaceX executive at a meeting with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) said the Musk-led company wanted to partner with Indian companies to locally produce telecommunications equipment, including systems for telecommunications. antenna and user terminals, as it has always sought ways to maximize the efficiency of its global supply chain.

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