Centre Asks Starlink To Share Information On Data Storage And Transfer: Report

Starlink will have to give an undertaking in case it does not come up with definite answers to Indian government's queries on data storage and transfer
Elon Musk
Elon Musk

The Indian government has disapproved the responses of Elon Musk-owned Starlink to its queries and has asked for definite answers to questions on data storage and transfer from India-based gateways, among other issues. Else, the US major will have to give an undertaking of unconditional compliance for getting a global mobile personal communication by satellite services (GMPCS) licence to offer broadband-from-space services in India.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is currently examining the application for security-related checks and a meeting is scheduled later this week in which Starlink executives are expected to participate. The government doesn't want Indian data traffic to go outside the country, officials aware of the matter told ET.

"The company will be a licence holder in India and has to follow the norms. For security concerns, the data has to stay in India," said an official requesting anonymity.

Starlink is said to have assured the government of its compliance of international regulations as the satellite constellation is global and data traffic travels accordingly. However, the government feels that if the data is not limited within the territorial limits of the country, it may bypass Indian regulations as the rules won't apply outside them.

Bharti Group-backed OneWeb and Reliance Jio's satcom arm have already been granted GMPCS licences by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Starlink is the third company that has applied for a licence to offer satcom services in the India market.

Foreign entities are now being allowed to set up infrastructure such as earth stations and gateways and offer satellite services in India. But they need to seek approval from IN-SPACe. India's new Space Policy 2023 has empowered IN-SPACe - an autonomous central regulatory body - to act as a single-window agency to authorise the gamut of space activities by both government and private satcom players.

If Starlink, a subsidiary of SpaceX, gets approval, it will have to wait for spectrum allocation by DoT. Its main rivals, OneWeb and Reliance Jio's satellite arm, are in the waitlist for airwaves. Amazon's Project Kuiper has also evinced interest in serving the world's second-largest telecom market with fast broadband services using satellites.

This is the second attempt by SpaceX to get a foothold in the Indian market. Last year, it was forced to return pre-booking money to applicants in the country after the DoT asked it to first seek regulatory approvals. The company then withdrew its communication for pre-orders and has since applied for these.

Companies are trying to launch services quickly to get a first-mover advantage. The satellite communications market in India is at a nascent stage but the potential is substantial, particularly in rural and remote areas. As per an EY-ISpA report, India's space economy is set to rise to $13 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6%.

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