Musk reportedly seeks license for Starlink’s satellite internet in India as Tesla stays stuck in regulatory logjam

The service available to almost five lakh consumers globally was kept out of India after the government last year clarified that Starlink didn’t have licenses to operate in the country.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, October 12, 2022, 09:59 AM IST
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Satellites will provide internet to remote areas lacking connectivity. | WIKIMEDIA

At almost 70 crore, India has the second highest population of internet users after China, which is set to hit 90 crore by 2025 as 5G and satellite internet takeover. With such a huge market evolving, major service providers can’t be far behind, and the world’s richest man Elon Musk has eyes on a major chunk of this pie. After being told by Beijing to keep the world’s biggest internet market China off his radar, Musk has turned Starlink’s constellation of 2,300 satellites towards India.

Stuck in a regulatory muddle

Although his electric car Tesla’s entry into India has been halted over a regulatory jam, Musk is reportedly applying for a license to beam internet to the country with low-orbit satellites. Starlink already has almost five lakh users across 25 countries globally, and has been connecting Ukranians to the world amidst a Russian invasion. This will make Musk’s firm the third of its kind to apply for permissions including landing rights and market access, after Airtel owner Bharti’s OneWeb and Reliance Jio.

Gliding beyond snags and geographical restrictions

Starlink relies on a constellation of thousands of satellites in the low Earth orbit, which form a network to beam internet to the most remote parts of the world. It leaps over limitations of undersea cables and fibre optic networks that are yet to reach many parts of the world, and are also vulnerable to damage. But these satellites require portable receivers which can be set up anywhere on the ground, which is why Iranians haven’t been able to activate Starlink in Iran despite Musk’s claims about providing it there.

Been hit by embarrassment

Like Tesla, Starlink had also hit a roadblock in India and faced embarrassment when the government made it clear last year that it doesn’t have a license to operate in India. The company was ordered to refund the money for pre-orders until it gets the permission to provide services in India. The Starlink head in India, Sanjay Bhargava had to resign after the debacle, which left the firm hanging in space for more than a year.

Popularity hasn’t translated into business

Although Elon Musk enjoys popularity among tech geeks and aspiring entrepreneurs in India, he hasn’t been able to enter the local market. After failing to reach an agreement on reducing import tariffs with India, Musk chose to set up Tesla manufacturing in Indonesia, while he sold a record number of EVs made in China this year. If Starlink comes to India, it’ll face competition from OneWeb which has more than 400 low-orbit satellites focusing on India alone, while Reliance Jio has just received regulatory approval.

Despite having one of the highest number of internet users, India still has 25000 villages where data services are yet to reach, and Starlink could prove instrumental in connecting them along with other similar services.

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