Hughes Communications India, a joint venture entity of US-based Hughes Network Systems and Indian telecom operator Bharti Airtel, announced the launch of its first high throughput satellite (HTS) broadband internet service in the country. The service will offer satellite internet to remote locations across India, and will use the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s Geosynchronous Satellite (GSAT)-11 and GSAT-29 satellites to offer the service.
Talking to Mint, Shivaji Chatterjee, senior vice-president of Hughes Communications India, said that the service has the capacity to offer internet connectivity bandwidth of up to 100Mbps. On March 22, Chatterjee told Mint in an interview that the service was expected to offer bandwidth of between 2-10Mbps.
“Our service will have an average bandwidth of around 10Mbps, since such speeds are what is required in the markets that we are targeting. Capacity wise, we can go much higher, if there is industry demand for it,” he said.
He also affirmed that the service was being tested for the past one year in select areas, such as Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, where difficult terrain often leads to lack of physical, terrestrial connectivity. Today’s launch expands Hughes’ HTS service across India.
HTS refers to satellite connectivity that offers a higher bandwidth — which in turn increases the amount of data that could be transferred between a satellite and a ground station. Typical satellite connectivity has seen low bandwidth, as well as high latency of connectivity — the time taken between a set of data to be transferred between a sender and a receiver.
HTS satellites seek to improve this, and therefore bring satellite-based internet connectivity closer to the standard of terrestrial internet networks.
Nishant Bansal, senior research manager for telecom research, Asia-Pacific at market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), said that the satellite broadband market is still limited even in industrial applications, and while many operators do have the capacity on paper to provide connectivity of up to 100 Mbps in bandwidth, their usage markets do not require such high bandwidths.
“The application of satellite connectivity remains limited to fringe markets, such as remote locations. There is no market for very high bandwidth satellite internet right now, since markets that require high bandwidth internet are already served by terrestrial networks offering up to 1Gbps bandwidths,” he said.
Explaining how Hughes’ HTS network works right now, Chatterjee said, “Our previous plans were limited to speeds of between 256kbps and 2Mbps, and offered around 4GB of data per month.” The new service is offering up to 10Mbps bandwidth — at up to 2GB data per day.
Bansal added that there have been discussions within the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to sanction the 26GHz frequency band for satellite connectivity usage, which could see more companies enter the satellite internet fold. “This could be critical for more service providers, such as Starlink (backed by SpaceX) and OneWeb (backed by Bharti Airtel) from entering this market,” he added.
Hughes’ present HTS service already has clients such as Reliance Jio and State Bank of India, among others. While Jio uses Hughes’ service for 4G backhaul to offer service to remote locations for its terrestrial telecom network, SBI uses Hughes’ service for connectivity at remote bank branches and automated teller machine (ATM) outlets.
In 2018, ISRO launched GSAT-11 and GSAT-29 with the aim of offering higher bandwidth satellite connectivity to Indian clients in the enterprise space. Following the launch of the GSAT-11 in December 2018, erstwhile ISRO chairman, K. Sivan, said at a press conference that the satellite is capable of offering peak data bandwidth of 14 Gbps through satellite networks.
While both GSAT-11 and GSAT-29 satellites carry transponders (instruments that relay the data from the satellites) in both Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies, the Hughes HTS service will use only the Ku-band for the high bandwidth data transfers.
Chatterjee affirmed that Hughes has applied for the use of higher frequencies on the Ka-band with India’s nodal space technology body, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe). “The Ka-band can help us provide gigabit-class internet connectivity, the technology for which is already available. In future, once we receive approval, we would be able to offer higher bandwidth connectivity as well,” he said.
However, Chatterjee added that Ka-band frequencies face higher interference from obstacles such as rain and forest cover, which could be hurdles that the eventual evolution of satellite internet technology will look to solve.