Elon Musk’s SpaceX has applied for a Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) license with the Department of Telecommunications, ET reported on Tuesday. The application could allow SpaceX to launch its Starlink service in India, a market it has eyed for years.
We have filed for a record of the application with the DoT, and reached out to SpaceX for comment. We will update this story if we hear back.
SpaceX has argued for loosening of Indian regulations in the past for allowing satellite broadband in places with low penetration of wired broadband and cell towers. In a November 2020 filing with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, SpaceX argued that license norms should be relaxed to allow players like Starlink and to enable spectrum sharing.
Reliance Jio and Airtel-backed OneWeb are two operators who already have a satellite license like the one SpaceX is applying for, Reuters reported earlier this week. BSNL has also been providing satellite internet for several years in places like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which only recently got undersea cable fiber connectivity.
But the kind of bandwidth offered by satellite constellations like Starlink and OneWeb are much higher, as they rely on multiple low-earth orbit satellites, which can better manage a larger network load, even if users don’t get speeds comparable to fiber connections in urban areas.
SpaceX was taking pre-booking money in 2021 before applying for a license to make SpaceX available in India. The DoT publicly rebuked the firm for doing so, after which refunds were issued to people who paid for a terminal.
Just a few weeks prior, though, SpaceX had registered an Indian subsidiary to advance regulatory processes needed to launch its satellite internet service in India; the subsidiary was named after Starlink.
The service is currently in use by Ukrainian troops and citizens, as the Russian invasion puts a tremendous strain on the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. 3,000 terminals are present in Ukraine, and 17,000 have been paid for. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk asked the US State Department to foot the monthly internet bills of Starlink, but later reversed course and said he would continue funding Ukraine’s use of the service.
Speeds of Starlink in the US have reduced to a median of 62.5Mbps as of September, according to data by Ookla. This reduction led the US Federal Communications Commission to revoke a grant that had been tentatively extended to SpaceX, as the regulator was no longer confident that SpaceX could offer the 100Mbps speeds it had initially promised.