Amazon eyes satellite broadband space in India after Elon Musk

Amazon eyes satellite broadband space in India after Elon Musk. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

After Elon Musk, Amazon eyes satellite broadband space in India

  • Amazon to discuss with India about the regulatory processes to enter India’s satellite internet space
  • India seems to be turning into a new battleground for billionaires Bezos and Musk to face-off
  • Currently, Musk’s SpaceX and OneWeb – backed by Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Group and the UK government – are readying to start Indian satellite broadband operations in 2022

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon is apparently initiating an effort to bring high-speed satellite internet services to India, a move that is sure to spark off the competition with arch-rivals Bharti-backed OneWeb and SpaceX owned by Elon Musk. If anything, it will at least lead to fair and lower satellite broadband rates around the world’s largest democracy.

According to The Economic Times, Amazon will soon approach the government to discuss the modalities, authorizations, permits, landing rights, and satellite bandwidth leasing costs. “Talks with the Department of Space (DoS) and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will happen on the necessary regulatory approvals to bring Amazon’s high-speed broadband services to India via its Project Kuiper satellite constellation as part of the global launch,” mentioned the report quoting a source.

DoS gives landing rights for downlinking signals of foreign satellites into the country. Amazon is already investing in excess of US$10 billion to build a constellation of 3,236 low-Earth orbit satellites as part of its global space internet initiative, Project Kuiper

The report further quoted industry executives as saying that India is a critical emerging satellite internet market that Amazon cannot ignore. It goes on to point out that nearly three-quarters of India’s rural population still does not have access to broadband, since many areas are without cellular or fiber connectivity. 

Space is getting crowded

One person that will be keeping a close eye on the progress of Kuiper will be Elon Musk, given his own satellite venture. In late March this year, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket deployed an additional 60 Starlink satellites across what is already a mammoth constellation, comprising roughly 1,300 satellites. The company is hoping to take this number up to 40,000 in due time, significantly upgrading the broadband satellite reach in-country. 

In February, SpaceX noted that it was already proving its satellite internet service to around 10,000 customers, adding that Starlink was no longer “theoretical and experimental”.  Then in March, Starlink began allowing Indian users to pre-order its services across several locations around the country for a refundable payment of US$99 (roughly Rs 7,200). Orders, according to the Starlink website, will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Amazon’s project will not just be competing with satellite internet in India. With proposals like Reliance Jio Infocomm’s plan to build the largest international submarine cable system, companies are eager to provide higher capacities and higher speeds to the people of the subcontinent. There have also been reports that the Bharti Group-backed OneWeb is raising US$550 million by selling a 24% stake to French satellite operator, Eutelsat Communications. Just recently, it was reported that the next batch of 36 satellites has been launched by OneWeb, a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications operator.

“As LEO satellite technology rapidly gains global scale and bandwidth leasing costs head down, it would make strong business sense for Amazon to quickly make inroads into India’s emerging satellite broadband market to effectively compete with OneWeb and SpaceX,” an analyst told the ET.