OneWeb in India: one step closer to global coverage

9th Jan 2024
OneWeb in India: one step closer to global coverage

Satellite Internet is becoming more and more accessible every day. Following SpaceX’s Starlink, which has been providing its services in many countries worldwide for over two years, Starlink’s British rival OneWeb is announcing its entry into the market in the coming months. And India is likely to be one of the first places where it will start operations. What is the OneWeb India mission, then, and why is it so important? Let’s find out.

Why does OneWeb want to operate in India?

Global satellite internet market forecast for 2030. Credit: alliedmarketresearch.com
Global satellite internet market forecast

India is the second-largest telecommunications market worldwide. It has over 1.2 billion mobile subscribers and over 800 million broadband Internet subscribers as of April 2023. However, the country still faces several challenges related to the quality, accessibility and coverage of its Internet services. According to India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, about 40% of the population does not have access to the Internet, and in rural areas, this figure reaches 60%. Moreover, the average Internet speed in the country is only 17.4 Mbps, which is lower than the global average of 55.3 Mbps.

The second key factor of interest is the Indian investment portfolio. Since 2021, Bharti Global has been one of the main investors in OneWeb with a 45% stake. The transnational conglomerate was founded in 1976 by Indian billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal and derives its main income from telecommunications. In particular, Bharti Airtel is the third-largest mobile operator in the world by subscriber base and is present in 18 countries. However, according to Sunil Mittal, who took over as executive chairman of OneWeb, his new company will not struggle with Bharti Airtel in the fight for customers, as it will cover remote and hard-to-access regions.

Apparently, Bharti Global is interested in launching satellite Internet in India before Elon Musk’s Starlink does the same. Although, according to official data, the operators are focused on different consumer segments (B2C and B2B) and are not direct competitors, entering the Indian telecommunications market will be a strong breakthrough for the company that does it first.

OneWeb India: first steps and challenges  

In November 2020, Sunil Mittal announced that the company’s management is negotiating with the government and regulatory authorities to obtain all necessary permits. In August 2021, the provider received a letter from the Department of Telecommunications confirming the receipt of a Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) licence for 20 years. The full launch of OneWeb in India was supposed to take place by the summer of 2022 when the company planned to complete its satellite constellation launch to LEO.

However, in March 2022, problems on the part of the Russian launch operator Roscosmos arose. The reason was Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which is why Russia’s state space agency demanded that the UK sell its stake in the Internet provider and that the company itself provide guarantees that its satellites will not be used for military purposes. In response, UK Secretary of State for Business and Energy, Kwasi Kwarteng, said that “there are no negotiations” with Roscosmos regarding the current situation and that the government is “not selling its share.” The enraged Russian side unilaterally terminated the launch contract and refused to return the batch of satellites that had already been delivered to the launch pad. Therefore, the British provider was forced to look for a new launch operator. And India came to the rescue.

What is the OneWeb India 1 mission?

LVM-III satellite launch
The LVM-III satellite launch from Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO

On 22nd October 2022, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) successfully launched 36 OneWeb satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC-SHAR) in Sriharikota. This was the 14th launch for the British operator and the 5th for the Indian heavy launch vehicle LVM 3. The launch included 9 stages lasting 75 minutes. All satellites were successfully launched into their intended orbits. Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Shri S. Somanath, called this mission a historic event as it was prepared quickly and became the next stepping stone for ISRO to enter the commercial launch market.

OneWeb India mission 2

On 26th March 2023, NSIL conducted the second OneWeb India mission, taking the total number of satellites in the constellation to 618 out of 648 and bringing broadband satellite Internet one step closer to the region. Neil Masterson, Chief Executive of the Internet provider, commented on the event: “This is the most significant milestone in our history, as we reach the satellites needed for global coverage. Over several years, we have remained focused on our commitment to deliver coverage solutions for the customers and communities that need them most. With today’s satellite deployment, facilitated by our expert team and our partners at ISRO and NSIL, we are realizing this central ambition”. 

Is OneWeb available in India?

Sunil Bharti Mittal
Sunil Bharti Mittal on the collaboration of Eutelsat and OneWeb. Credit: twitter.com

Not yet, but this could happen as soon as 2024. In June 2023, the company received approval from the Ministry of Transport to set up satellite centres in Gujarat and Chennai.

In late September, it became known that the provider had completed a merger with the largest French satellite communications operator, Eutelsat Communications SA. As a result, Bharti Enterprises now owns a 21.2% stake in Eutelsat, and this association should help both companies leverage each other’s strengths to extend their influence in the industry.

On 21st November, Eutelsat OneWeb received key approval from the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) to launch a commercial satellite broadband service in the country. It remains to wait for the spectrum allocation from the Ministry of Communications and complete the placement of all satellites in orbit to ensure global coverage.

How much will ОneWeb in India cost?

How can you make a solution like OneWeb affordable in India
Credit: oneweb.net/india

At the moment, OneWeb India cost plans have not been made public. An announcement on the operator’s official website says that prices will be determined closer to the service launch and will be competitive and affordable. In March, Sunil Mittal said that service prices for OneWeb satellite Internet in India could not match the “extremely low” tariff rates in the country. They could probably be on par with mobile phone rates if they were used by a community of 30–40 houses in a village. However, personal use services will cost more than existing mobile service plans.

Today, the average price for 1 GB of mobile Internet in the region, from Bharti Airtel, for example, is $0.25. At the same time, Airtel recently announced the launch of 5G and promises high-speed coverage in all major cities by the end of 2024. Will OneWeb India be able to compete? We hope to find out in the coming months. Follow our posts for updates!

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