OneWeb, owned by Eutelsat, recently secured approval from India’s space regulator for its upcoming satellite broadband service, in an announcement warmly welcomed by Bharti Group chairman and co-chair of Eutelsat, Sunil Bharti Mittal. “We are pleased to note the Indian space regulator’s green light to launch Eutelsat OneWeb’s commercial satellite broadband services in India,” he declared. Mittal also noted the significance of this development in support of the nation’s ambition to offer comprehensive internet connectivity, in tandem with the Prime Minister’s vision of a Digital India.

This advancement for OneWeb comes after difficult navigation through several bureaucratic challenges in order to offer connectivity from its fleet of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. OneWeb is reported to have approached the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) for operational permission as early as April last year. This followed their acquisition of the necessary GMPCS (global mobile personal communication by satellite) license from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

However, albeit this substantial stride, OneWeb’s journey is not yet complete – an official allocation of some spectrum by the government remains pending to launch commercial services. This final hurdle could turn out to be the toughest one, notably as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), a crucial player in spectrum policy recommendations, has lacked a leadership since PD Vagehla’s term ended in September. Allocation of the satellite spectrum is reported to be delayed till TRAI’s recommendations are received, likely once a new chairperson is appointed and settled.

Further complicating matters are differing viewpoints on the preferred spectrum allocation process. Satellite operators advocate for a simple handover from the government, while telecommunications operators urge for an auction. Indeed, given India’s record with spectrum auctions, more delays could be on the horizon.

Despite this bureaucratic tangle, OneWeb could edge ahead of certain competitors due to its early start. Rival SpaceX’s LEO operator, Starlink, is reportedly still awaiting GMPCS license clearance from the DoT, while Amazon’s Kuiper LEO services has only recently sought IN-SPACe permission for operational activity. The only Indian operator seeming aligned with OneWeb in pace is Reliance Jio, with both operators notably benefiting from Indian financial backing – Bharti Group and Reliance Jio respectively.

As final pieces of approval await, Mittal weighs in with a reminder, “Eutelsat OneWeb is ready to deploy as soon as it receives the final spectrum authorisation to launch commercial services.” Undoubtedly, these developments are pivotal as competition heightens in the telecommunications industry in India.