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Why Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellite Internet Is Still Not Available In India?

Starlink, which ​​quietly rolled out internet services in India last year, had to shut down services after government intervention

AP File Photo

Elon Musk’s SpaceX-owned satellite internet broadband service Starlink on Monday announced its presence in all seven continents, including Antarctica. This means even the most remote areas can soon have connectivity via satellite internet.

The company tested one of its Starlink internet terminals at McMurdo Station in Antarctica which is inhabited by almost 1,000 people. 

What's interesting is despite having thousands of tiny satellites in space that are making internet available in major parts of the world, Starlink, which ​​quietly rolled out internet services in India last year, had to shut down services after government intervention and it doesn’t look like it will be available anytime soon in India. To add to its woes, Reliance Jio earlier this year announced its satellite-based internet service in the country, making the task tougher for Musk’s Starlink.

What Is Starlink?

Starlink consists of thousands of satellites that orbit the Earth at 550 km from the surface. It aims to provide high-speed internet connectivity to people who live in remote areas. 

Because of its relative proximity to Earth's surface, Starlink offers considerably fast signals. Starlink offers a latency between 20–40 milliseconds, and the internet speeds vary from 50Mbps to 150Mbps.

Starlink claims to have latency as low as around 20 ms, however, many low-level satellites are needed to provide full coverage of the globe.

Starlink reportedly has around 3,000 low-level satellites in space and the company plans to use around 10,000 of them to offer its services in more places.

Why Starlink Couldn’t Offer Its Satellite Internet In India? 

Last year, Starlink registered its business in India via a local unit, Starlink Satellite Communications Private Limited. The company has planned to provide fast internet data in the Indian market at the lowest price compared to the international market. 

The then Starlink India director Sanjay Bhargava said Starlink was planning an April rollout, targeting 200,000 devices by December 2022. 

Bhargava claimed SpaceX had a 100 percent owned subsidiary in India and would be able to apply for licenses, open bank accounts, etc. 

Starlink had received more than 5,000 pre-orders after the announcement. However, the government said Starlink Internet Services doesn’t have the license to offer services in India.

The Department of Telecom warned Starlink against taking further bookings. Meanwhile, Bhargava stepped down as Starlink Country Director, India, just four months after his appointment.

In November last year, the Department of Telecommunications warned people to not buy Starlink Internet Services. In a statement, the telecom department told Elon Musk’s company to “get a licence before offering Satellite-based services.”

Reliance Jio To Bring Satellite-Based Internet To India

Adding to Starlink’s woes, in February this year, Reliance Jio announced its foray into satellite-based internet with a joint venture with SES -- a Luxembourg-based satellite content connectivity solutions provider, under the name of Jio Space Technology Limited to deliver multi-gigabit links to enterprises and retail customers, offering a maximum speed of 100Gbps.

They intend to make use of multi-orbit space networks -- a combination of geostationary and medium earth orbit satellite constellations that are capable of offering multi-gigabit links, while also sporting the capacity to power enterprises and retail customers across India. 

Akash Ambani, Director of Jio, said, “While we continue to expand our fiber-based connectivity and FTTH business and invest in 5G, this new joint venture with SES will further accelerate the growth of multigigabit broadband. With additional coverage and capacity offered by satellite communications services, Jio will be able to connect the remotest towns and villages, enterprises, government establishments, and consumers to the new Digital India. We are excited about this new journey combining our massive reach and customer base with SES’s innovative leadership and expertise in the satellite industry.”

On september 12, JSCL received a key approval from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to start high-speed broadband-from-space services.

Jio Vs Starlink

SES has satellites in geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO), while Starlink satellites are in low earth orbit (LEO). 

GEO satellites are positioned at an altitude of 36,000 km; MEO at 5,000-20,000 km while LEO is positioned at 500-1,200 km. 

While it would take just three GEO satellites to cover the whole Earth, LEO satellites are smaller and cheaper to launch than GEOs or MEOs.

Reliance hasn’t made it clear yet if Jio Space Technology will also consider low-Earth orbit, or LEO, satellites -- a category that provides rapid data transmission, or lower latency, since they are closer to Earth.

Russia's Hostility Towards Starlink

As Russian forces advanced in Ukraine, they closed down Ukrainian internet services and tried to block social media.

Musk made Starlink available in Ukraine immediately after the invasion started after Mykhailo Fedorov, the country's vice prime minister called on Musk for help in late February. 

About 15,000 of Starlink's sets of dishes and routers have been shipped to the country.

Russia recently issued a complaint against Starlink satellites, which are being allegedly used for “military purposes”, hinting that these may become a "legitimate target" for wartime operations. 

During a United Nations meeting on reducing space threats earlier this week, a Russian official without naming Starlink said "the United States and its allies" are using satellites for military use which "may become a legitimate target for retaliation". 

Notably, the Starlink constellation has over 2,800 satellites and many are parked over Ukraine to provide internet services in the country owing to the disruption of communication after Russia's attack. 

A few days after Russia's statements, Musk tweeted that "Starlink is for peaceful use only". 

In May this year, Musk said Russia has increased its efforts to jam SpaceX's Starlink Satellite internet in Ukraine but hasn't succeeded.

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