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Bharti-backed OneWeb to partner with ISRO for satellite launches from 2022

With recent policy moves, private players are warming to the idea of providing internet through satellite in India’s rural areas.

Satellite internet provider OneWeb is partnering with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to launch OneWeb’s satellites from 2022, the company announced on October 11.

OneWeb is a satellite constellation that provides internet connectivity through several low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites that blanket the earth. The company, co-owned by the UK government and Bharti, Airtel’s parent company, recently announced that it will provide satellite broadband in rural and remote parts of India where it is expensive and difficult to lay down fiber-optic connections.

OneWeb’s initial constellation size is 648 LEO satellites, out of which 322 satellites are in orbit already. The company expects to start commercial operations in the Arctic region this year. “By late 2022, OneWeb will offer its high-speed, low latency connectivity services in India and the rest of the world,” the company said.

How will the ISRO partnership help OneWeb’s mission?

ISRO is renowned for its low-cost payload delivery services and this partnership will help OneWeb better compete with SpaceX’s Starlink which uses its own rockets for satellite launches and has a significant cost-advantage owing to that.

ISRO has built formidable launch capabilities and India is part of the select group of countries to have history of successful launches. OneWeb will be delighted to use ISRO’s proven platforms to fulfil its vision of taking broadband connectivity across the earth, oceans and sky. – OneWeb Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal

As of now, OneWeb has signed a Letter of Intent with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO to use the Indian-built PSLV and the heavier GSLV as potential launch platforms, the company said at the unveiling of the Indian Space Association (ISpA). Bharti Airtel, OneWeb, Tata Group’s Nelco, L&T, and MapMyIndia are founding members of this association among others.

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“OneWeb and NSIL will expeditiously convert the Letter of Intent into a binding agreement after obtaining all necessary approvals from their respective Boards,” the company said.

The state of satellite broadband in India

Outside of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar where the lack of any terrestrial connectivity has forced the government to rely on satellite broadband for a long time, subcontinental states have mostly relied on mobile data. “DoT will shortly send a reference to TRAI, seeking suggestions on ways to create an enabling regulatory environment for deploying new satellite technologies like LEO constellations, and also explore a geography-specific licensing framework,” a government official said in a webinar in August.

The space communications policy of the government released in 2020 commits the government to facilitate satellite broadband in rural areas, where commercial deployments are not financially feasible.

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