Hughes Communications India Private Ltd (HCIPL), a recently formed joint venture between Indian telco Bharti Airtel and US-based Hughes Network Systems, announced a six-year distribution relationship with the megaconstellation operator on Jan. 20.
Bharti Airtel is owned by Bharti Global, OneWeb’s largest shareholder, and Hughes is a minority investor in OneWeb, which is also creating gateways for the operator in India and other countries.
HCIPL is India’s largest satellite service operator, with over 200,000 VSATs in the country, according to the joint venture’s founders, who announced the company’s foundation on Jan. 4.
Hughes Network Systems president Pradman Kaul told SpaceNews in an interview that 135,000 of those VSATs come from Hughes, which owns around two-thirds of HCIPL, and the rest come from Airtel.
The VSATs now connect to satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO), but once OneWeb has regulatory approval to operate in the country, Kaul said HCIPL hopes to introduce multi-orbit capabilities.
Starlink, SpaceX’s LEO broadband operator, also needs regulatory approval to operate in India.
Sanjay Bhargava, Starlink’s former India chief executive, stated late last year that the business aimed to apply for a commercial licence by January 31, 2022. Bhargava recently announced his departure from SpaceX, just days after India’s government ordered the business to halt pre-sales of Starlink until it receives regulatory certification.
Regulatory approval in India, according to Kaul, “should happen hopefully in the next three to six months.”
He noted that India’s regulatory landscape is changing, with laws being loosened to promote investments in the space industry.
Bharti controls around a third of OneWeb, which is domiciled in the United Kingdom, while its other shareholders are based outside of India.
According to Kaul, this means OneWeb will be among the first foreign satellite operators to be allowed to service India on a long-term basis.
When India’s Department of Space is unable to meet demand with locally operated satellites, foreign operators are occasionally authorised to lease capacity to the government.
“The criteria are really onerous and don’t stimulate investment,” Pradman added.
According to him, the changing regulatory landscape is driving Hughes Network Systems to investigate a high-throughput GEO satellite for India, comparable to the company’s Jupiter 3 for North America, which is set to launch in the second half of 2022 with an unknown launch provider.
“We’ll definitely start looking at it,” Pradman said, “but it’s not the most essential thing right now.”
“Right now, we’re looking to connect the LEO OneWeb capability with our existing GEO network, so that they can all function together and start providing services.”
OneWeb has already launched more than 60% of its planned constellation of 648 satellites, with the remaining satellites set to launch this year for global connectivity services.
To expand its offerings, the company has announced a slew of new distribution partners around the world.
Field Solutions, an Australian telecoms carrier, said on Jan. 19 that it will distribute OneWeb’s services to rural, regional, and remote Australia as part of a distribution collaboration.