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Spectrum auction to hurt India’s satellite play, says Sunil Mittal

Spectrum allocation for satellite services came up as a dominant theme at the launch of 36 communication satellites by OneWeb, a Bharti group venture, here on Sunday.

Following the launch, Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal, in a conversation with a group of reporters, reiterated that spectrum auction did not make sense in the case of satellite services.

“This (satellite services) is not competing with mobile services where you can justify the auction.

“Something should come out, which works, otherwise India will potentially miss out on satellite services,’’ Mittal said, adding that cannot be the intention.

According to industry players in this space, spectrum allocation through auction mechanism will lead to a situation where usage could be restricted to a single player, affecting the digital India roadmap of providing broadband to the masses.

In India, Amazon’s Project Kuiper and Bharti Enterprises through OneWeb are targeting to provide internet via satellite.

Others like Telesat and Elon Musk’s Starlink were also keen on the Indian market.

“Satellite spectrum has been kept aside. How they (government) will allocate it needs to be seen — whether it is through administrative allocation or through auction.

“If auctioned, it cannot be on the lines of what we saw in terrestrial because the business case is very small.

“You cannot have 1000 Mhz at Rs 7,000 crore to serve two 15- acre spots in the country,” Mittal said on the sidelines of the OneWeb event, that coincided with his 65th birthday.

For the two commercial launches – one set on Sunday and another in January 2023 — OneWeb has entered a  Rs 1,000-crore deal with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The company is looking to offer its broadband services by the middle of next year on a business-to-business basis.

Mittal added that talks are on regarding the prospects of sourcing its Gen2 satellites from ISRO and for other collaborations.

OneWeb is also in the process of getting regulatory approvals for a proposed merger with French satellite major Eutelsat Communications.

This is being structured as an exchange of OneWeb shares by its shareholders (other than Eutelsat) with new shares issued by Eutelsat, such that, at closing, Eutelsat would own 100 per cent of OneWeb (excluding the ‘special share’ of the UK government).

OneWeb shareholders would receive 230 million newly issued Eutelsat shares representing 50 per cent of the enlarged share capital.

Out of the 648 satellites targeted by OneWeb for its constellation, around 460 are already launched and by next year all of them are expected to be in space.

Out of that, majority were launched using Russian rockets through a deal with Roscosmos.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis adversely affected the company.

Subsequently, the launch was shifted to India.

“We have shown the entire world on how to contract and execute such a project in three to four months,” said Radhakrishnan D, chairman and managing director of NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO.

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