There’s a new spatial energy coursing through the ground networks. Scores of small satellites are being launched into orbits close to the earth, adding to what Sunil Bharti Mittal likes to call a “telecoms network in space”. Mittal, the Indian telecom magnate, has become a satellite evangelist over the last 12 months.

It’s, therefore, not hard to guess what he’d say in his keynote address at the flagship satellite industry event in Maryland, US, on Wednesday. Since July 2020, Mittal, the promoter of India’s second largest telco, Bharti Airtel, has invested US$1 billion of his personal wealth in becoming the largest shareholder and rescuer of OneWeb.

With an aim to launch a constellation of 648 satellites in Low Earth Orbits (LEO), OneWeb plans to start streaming broadband from space by mid-2022. It needs country licenses, market access, and customer contracts well before that to ensure a return on its massive investments. Unlike GEO GEO Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit A GEO satellite appears to be located at a fixed point in space when viewed from the earth's surface. Satellites located in geosynchronous orbit move in time with the rotation of the earth. Geostationary satellites are located 22,237 miles above the earth's surface. or MEO MEO Medium Earth orbit A medium Earth orbit is an Earth-centred orbit with an altitude above a low Earth orbit and below a high Earth orbit – between 2,000 km and 35,786 km above sea level. satellites, LEO satellites have a shorter 5-year life span, and OneWeb—or, for that matter, American SpaceX’s Starlink—needs to generate revenues from the moment satellites go live. As executive chairman of OneWeb, Mittal, 63, has taken it upon himself to get “global market access” for the company.

Partly thanks to him, the implementation of India’s dormant telecom policy, which was rechristened to the National Digital Communications Policy and notified in 2018, has kicked into high gear. The hockey stick graph (below) shows Mittal is in a hurry, and Indian regulators are keeping pace. Bharti Enterprises applied for licences in June, by early August it had a Letter of Intent from the Department of Telecom (DoT). The company will soon get down to building gateways on the ground, which would act as data exchanges between satellites and the internet.

If one mostly saw a miffed Mittal in the last few years as telecom went through a brutal price war unleashed by Reliance Jio, today, a resurgent Mittal isn’t tiring of doing interviews and speaking about satellite connectivity.

At the virtual 25th anniversary celebration of mobile telephony last year, Reliance Jio promoter Mukesh Ambani extolled the Prime Minister’s Digital India mission and asked for “2G to be made part of history”, whereas a dour-looking Mittal asked for rationalisation of telecom levies.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

View Full Profile

Read this story. Subscribe Now

This story is available across both editions. Subscribe to the one that’s most relevant for you. Questions?

Pick an edition

MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500

Subscribe
MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20

Subscribe

Questions?

What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.