Billionaire Elon Musk-led SpaceX aims to launch its satellite internet service, Starlink, in India some time in 2022. The aerospace company’s website has listed several Indian locations where the services will be available on a first- come-first-serve basis. The option to pre-book Starlink services is available to Indian users on the website at a refundable amount of $99 (around ₹7,265).
Starlink is a collection of small internet satellites that orbit closer to the earth’s surface (at an altitude of 550km) compared to large navigation and communication satellites which operate from medium earth orbit of 2,000 km to 35,000 km or the satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which operate from beyond 35,000 km. Due to their closer proximity to earth’s surface Starlink and other similar satellites fair better in terms of latency and interference, resulting in better internet services.
According to reports, existing satellite broadband services have median latencies of 594 to 612ms. SpaceX claims Starlink will reduce latency down to 20 to 40ms. The beta testing of Starkink’s internet services has already started in US with assured data speeds of up to 150Mbps. To access the services, users require the Starlink kit, which includes a user terminal, router and mounting tripod to connect to satellites.
SpaceX claims that data speed, latency and uptime will improve further with the launch of more satellites, installation of more ground stations and upgrading of networking software.
The company plans to launch 12,000 Starlink satellites and has already placed over 1,000 of them in space.
Satellite internet has a lot of potential in India as it can transcend geographical barriers and enable access to internet services in remotest of areas where providing coverage through on-ground mobile tower is difficult. According to World Economic Forum (WEF), as of August 2020, 50% of people in India don’t have internet access. In comparison, only 14% of the population in US are disconnected from internet. However, India has also been one of the fastest growing markets in terms of new adoption with number of internet users growing by 23% between 2019 and 2020, as per WEF.
SpaceX isn’t the only satellite internet provider that is eying India market. Hughes India, a subsidiary of Hughes Network Systems, recently tied up with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to provide internet services to 5,000 remote villages in Eastern Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur. The company will use Indian space agency’s communications satellites, GSAT-19 and GSAT-11.
Bharti Airtel is also planning to launch a high speed satellite internet service by 2022 using OneWeb’s LEO constellation of internet satellites. The telco is in talks with ISRO to build cost effective access terminals.