The global e-commerce giant founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos will approach the government to discuss modalities, authorisations, permits, landing rights and satellite bandwidth leasing costs, the people told ET.
The Department of Space (DoS) gives landing rights for downlinking signals of foreign satellites into the country.
Amazon is investing over $10 billion to build a constellation of 3,236 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites as part of its global space internet initiative, Project Kuiper. It has yet to disclose India plans though.
“…talks with the 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,” one person said.
A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment.
Industry executives said India is a critical emerging satellite internet market that Amazon cannot ignore since at stake is a $500 million near-term revenue opportunity from servicing millions of Indians in rural and remote areas through satellite-based, fast internet services.
Nearly 75% of the rural population does not have access to broadband since many locations are without cellular or fibre connectivity. As a result, LEO satellite systems are being viewed as a viable alternative, though it is costly at present.
“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,” Rohan Dhamija, partner and head, India & Middle East at technology, media and telecom consultancy Analysys Mason told ET.
OneWeb and SpaceX have already announced big India plans that could give them a strong first-mover advantage in a key telecom market, he added.
Musk’s SpaceX and OneWeb – backed by Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Group and the UK government — are readying to start satellite broadband operations in India next year, leveraging their respective LEO satellite constellations.
Industry experts said Amazon’s potential entry can cut the current high cost of satellite internet services, which is nearly 30 times more expensive than 4G mobile broadband in India.
These services are now priced at around $15-$20 per GB in the country, about 22-30 times higher than $0.68 per GB for mobile data.
“The combined presence of Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb can create more healthy competition and make satellite broadband services more affordable and help connect the unconnected, especially when the Indian government is backing LEO constellations for delivering mass satellite connectivity in rural and remote regions,” said Anil Prakash, director general, Satcom Industry Association (SIA-India).
With SpaceX and OneWeb committing themselves to the Indian market, the focus is now on Amazon, which is already a household brand name in India, he added.
It is not clear whether Amazon will partner an existing telecom player in India or go it alone.
With Bharti group already co-owning OneWeb, the only two remaining options are Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea. But Amazon is currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute with Reliance Industries over ownership of Future Group’s retail assets.
While sources at Jio said it was closely studying the satellite communications space, the company has denied talking to any LEO operator for partnerships.
SpaceX is already offering a beta version of its Starlink satellite internet service on pre-orders in India for a refundable deposit of $99 (over Rs 7,000).
Unlike OneWeb, which aims to take satellite broadband only to India’s remote regions, the Starlink beta programme offers fast broadband to the country’s urban areas as well, as per its website.
Analysts said satellite resources can also help boost mobile broadband coverage in rural areas where there aren’t enough mobile towers or terrestrial backhaul links via fibre networks, which can be a business-to-business (B2B) revenue opportunity for satcom players going forward.
According to brokerage CLSA, satellite broadband can also be deployed for a host of supply chain management use cases such as real-time vehicle fleet tracking to cold chain management of refrigerated items such as medicines and food. They can be the backbone for networks of IoT devices, to remotely monitor smart grids as in transmission towers, railway safety systems and even deliver emergency alerts in case of floods, landslides or tsunamis. Satellite systems are also ideal for smart agriculture use cases – from tracking soil conditions for critical inputs such as water, fertilisers and pesticides to harvest-related predictions.
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