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Will offer satellite internet to MSMEs from April: Hughes’ Shivaji Chatterjee

As low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite-based internet service operators ready themselves for commercial operations, Shivaji Chatterjee, senior vice- president of Hughes Communications, says such services are in the news since they are being largely driven by prominent personalities like Sunil Mittal, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk who are putting in all their might behind this sector. Hughes, on its part, has a strategic partnership with Bharti Airtel’s OneWeb. In an interview, Chatterjee pointed out, among other things, that the Russia-Ukraine conflict may have delayed the company’s plans by a few months. Edited excerpts:

Given that some business sectors have already been using satellite services,

why are we seeing this sudden hype among consumers?

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You have figures such as Sunil Mittal, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk who are hype- worthy names, right? If you look at LEOs – OneWeb, for instance, has been around for five years. But it didn’t have a major equity holder such as Sunil Mittal all through that time. Musk and Bezos had not thrown their hats into this segment. Then, there’s always the romance of space – there's a side to all this about man going to the moon and Mars, and promotion of space tourism and Mars civilisation. The hype in SatCom is actually a mix of all these stories, which sounds very exciting. Otherwise, it’s just another satellite technology that is on the anvil.

What kind of satellite-based services are used today by enterprises and our government?

The current services that we provide using traditional satellites are very expensive, and nobody really uses it for satellite internet. But, from next month, when our high throughput satellite (HTS) services go live, we will start offering satellite internet aimed at MSMEs (micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises). We’re targeting the entire east and north-east India, and the hilly areas of Himachal, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and so on. These are the areas where there's big demand, and the terrestrial infrastructure is poor compared to the western, central and southern parts of India. This will start as a 2-10 Mbps service for satellite internet.

What new use case can LEOs bring to the table, which GEOs haven’t already offered?

The one negative of GEO (geosynchronous equatorial orbit) satellite technology is latency. In TV broadcasts, data transfer is one-way, which makes network latencies indiscernible. But, when you go for interactive applications, such latencies would affect real-time applications. GEOs are still good enough for a lot of tasks, but in use cases such as video conferencing, gaming or fields that involve on-the-fly decision making such as with remote IoT deployments – lower latencies in a few milliseconds would make a big difference. This is what LEOs can do, bringing satellite closer to the performance of terrestrial and wireless technologies.

However, satellite internet still offers limited bandwidth – only a fraction of what is already available on the ground and at a fraction of the cost. The two are not comparable.