Spacecom Policy Going to Make Satcom Sector Dynamic: Shivaji Chatterjee

There are so many different uses of Satcom around the world based on very open regulations, which create an ecosystem, which is very friendly. Once the Spacecom policy comes out, it's going to be even more dynamic.

Highlights

  • Satellite is a very strong content delivery mechanism.
  • Hughes has been providing services in India since last 26 years.
  • When the LEO systems come in, they're going to fulfil only a niche part of the market where the bandwidth quantum needs to be sizeable.

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There are so many different uses of Satcom around the world based on very open regulations, which create an ecosystem, which is very friendly. And I think that is what will get unshackled. And, I think once the SpaceCom policy comes out, it’s going to be even more dynamic, says Shivaji Chatterjee, Senior Vice President and Head of Enterprise Business, Hughes Communications India Private Limited.

Q1. So, Shivaji What Are Your Views on the Progress of India’s Satellite Space Ecosystem. What Are the Challenges and Opportunities That Lie Ahead?

What has happened in the last one to two years, I think mainly during the first phase of the lockdown was that the finance ministry offered you know, lots of SOPs – announced by the Finance Minister. One of the big things was also about creating a body called IN-SPACe and which would be kind of the regulator for the satellite industry. So that was a huge step.

And I think what that has ignited in the next, 15 months since then is a series of, you know, further actions, which has resulted in a lot of optimism and opening up. Because one of the key things is that, in India, the ecosystem was kind of, shackled. It wasn’t, you know, open and liberal.

What happened in telecom 20 years back was that DoT was broken into four parts – one, it was the, you know, licenser. The other element was TRAI, which became the regulator and tariff maker, then BSNL became the commercial services company, which is treated not very differently from any private operator and TDSAT became the dispute resolution.

In the space segment, that never happened. It was DoS, ISRO Chairman, Antrix and NewSpace. All of these bodies were run by the same team and as a result, it became a very closed system, which, you know, obviously there was a certain preference for its own capacity, a conflict of interest. So what I think the changes which have happened in the last 15 months, be it the SpaceCom policy – which should be out within three to four months – is opening up of the sector to align the Indian, private companies, local startups for different companies that need to come in.

And what that will bring in is a complete transformation. You will have Ka-band and you will have, HTS, you will have a lower earth orbit, medium earth orbit, narrowband satellites, which is the one used for handheld phones. Today you can get a satellite phone if there was a need.

So there are so many different uses of Satcom around the world based on very open regulations, which create an ecosystem, which is very friendly. And I think that is what will get unshackled. And, I think once the Spacecom policy comes out, it’s going to be even more dynamic. And I think you’ll see all kinds of players from the supply side of the things coming in and with that kind of supply, you’re going to see a different type of demand. And that’s really what the optimism is about.

Q2. Can You Please Tell Me About Hughes Growth Plans and Strategies for the Next Few Years? How Will You Compete With the Companies Such as Starlink, Inmarsat, Telesat Etc?

Yeah, so I’d say that it’s not about competing. I feel that one of the advantages Hughes has is we have been in the country, providing service for over, 26 years. And we have a whole slew of, you know, partnership long-term relationships with government, defence, telecom providers, banks, enterprise customers, state government, e-learning, movie distribution, you name it.

So firstly, it’s not easy for somebody to come in and change that equation, which one has worked on for so long, right? It’s just that we know the market and we are providing the service. What we see with all these companies is they are just providing a different technology option, which we’ll be very glad to use and take to our same customer base. Our role is one of a service provider, which kind of meets the demands of our customers.

You know, if we were doing it using the current, I’d say traditional satellites as these new-age satellites come about, they will provide better value propositions, better techno commercial equations, and which is great for us to use with our customers.
So I think it’s a very simple equation. We will definitely leverage all these, you know capacities which are coming and take it to our customers. Now definitely, if there are four big Leo ecosystems coming in from OneWeb to Starlink to Amazon and Telesat, they’re only coming between, I’d say one to five years time.

And, so they all have a different value proposition – some of them are unproven as yet some haven’t got their funding, some are yet to test the system some are yet to launch a satellite. So it’s a long haul, you know, it’s like saying, you know, how is 6G going to affect or 5G going to affect.

I’d say that over the course of the next few months, I feel you will see different announcements from us where we are going to leverage one or two of these ecosystems. The other thing is, you know, LEO systems are not the beyond and on, they have some plus and they have some minuses.

On the negative side, it is a new technology. It’s not proven. Secondly, the system is very complicated because the terminals have to look at two satellites at a time. So you need two different antennas with auto-tracking. And, you know, it’s a very sophisticated antenna like if you see a news van, you see that antenna which is on top of a news van is an order tracking antenna. It’s an expensive antenna, the DSNG van.

Whereas you go and see an antenna, which is on VSAT or an ATM location, it costs maybe $50, $60. So I think those things will definitely lead to different market segments, requiring different technology.

What we embarked on this year is the GEO HTS services, which we believe are the lowest cost services, you know, from the terminal and the bandwidth point of view, what it does not offer is the low-latency, but everything else.

It has a very strong proposition and we feel that is going to be a great solution for the Indian market. And we feel when the LEO systems come in, they’re going to fulfil only a niche part of the market where the bandwidth quantum needs to be sizeable in order to justify the high cost of the user terminal. So it’s not going to be something that is so ubiquitous, it’s going to fit into certain specific needs.

Q3. Satcom Has an Important Role in a 5G Network Rollout. And, Like if Yes, What Are Your Plans Like How You Plan to Support the Indian 5G Network Rollout on What Basis?

Yeah, it’s like, you know, Satcom is a media. So firstly understand when there was 2G, 3G, or 4G. Why satellite is relevant, there are a few reasons. One, you cannot reach everywhere using a terrestrial microwave, right? There’s always going to be that, whether you call it 3%, 5%, 10% different studies give you a different reading of sites, which are very remote.

Recently, there was an article on Reliance Jio rolling out 4G services in Ladakh. They’ve announced 4G services for the border. All the sites have been done by on satcom by Hughes on the geostationary, HTS satellite, every site, eight or nine sites.

So, that’s the point you know, even a company like Jio is using it extensively to be able to reach a different area. So that’s going to be one role for sure. The other important role is going to be with 5G. There’s a big concept of bringing the internet closer to the edge and closer to the user, rather than everything being in the cloud. And I think those kinds of applications is again great for satellite because the satellite is a very strong content delivery mechanism.

We are already doing a project with, Microsoft and SES, which is actually pushing content, using satellite communication to Wi-Fi hotspots with regional, OTT channels. So a channel like a Hoichoi, right, which is very big in Bihar and West Bengal, you know, so that is going to be in those hotspots.

So they don’t have to go to the net where all the bottleneck is going to be cached locally, and then the users can stream it. You must be aware in India, this module of SD card is there where the content is put on SD card that is given, you know, on rent. So this is a legal version of doing that because those are generally the pirated copies, this being online streaming, it benefits everybody, but it’s available on the local edge, which is what everybody wants.

The third important thing, which I feel the LEO systems will do well for 5G is because the LEO satellites are at thousand kilometres from the earth surface compared to traditional satellites, which are 36,000 kilometres. The latency is that much better. And with the lower latency, I think 5G, one of the key things is low-latency because they want to enable real-time application, real-time sharing of information, even today, what we see in the Google Maps, right? I mean, we just take it for granted, but it’s a fantastic use of real-time. How do you know this traffic that’s going from all of us, you know, initially that used to sound like the app data must be estimated based on historic trends, right? Which is how it started! And now it’s live data, which is telling you whether there’s a five-minute jam and how long it takes.

So I’d say that like, anything else, nobody asks, how is 5G going to affect fiber or 5G going to affect microwave? Right? These are just mediums and 5G is a technology like 4G, which is you know wireless cellular ecosystem and will work together using the unique characteristics of each media.

So it’s that simple. I don’t think there’s any conflict. I think more bandwidth is always something good. When we used to do 2G backhauling, we used to sell 500 Kbps per site, and to Jio, we are selling 8 Mbps per site. So if you ask me as a bandwidth provider, the more the usage, the more bandwidth will be required and the more there will be the business. So, it’s great.

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