May 28, 2022
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India bets on satellite broadband to bridge rural digital divide

India bets on satellite broadband to bridge rural digital divide

The day began nicely for Sayi Gharat. The nine-year-old schoolgirl managed to join simply to her on-line science class, as she sat on a daybed in her grandmother’s dwelling in western India.

However Sayi knew she wouldn’t have the option to keep in the identical spot for lengthy due to the shaky cellular web connection she relied on for her training as courses in Dunge village and throughout India moved on-line when COVID-19 struck in March 2020.

“Sometimes the network is good, sometimes it’s not good: she has to move from one room to another, from one corner to another, and even go outside,” Sayi’s grandmother, Chandrakamalkar Gharat, advised the Thomson Reuters Basis.

Two years on, Sayi is again in school, however staying on-line all day stays a problem for her and tens of tens of millions of others with poor connectivity in rural India, the place the digital divide hampers training, livelihoods and healthcare entry.

“It’s very hard for her – we sometimes wonder if it’s worth the trouble,” Gharat mentioned.

There are presently greater than 800 million web subscribers within the nation of 1.3 billion individuals, in accordance to the telecom regulatory authority (TRAI). But in rural India, solely about 38% of the inhabitants is linked to the web.

The federal government has made common broadband a precedence below its Digital India programme to enhance governance by expertise, with initiatives such because the Bharat Internet rural broadband challenge geared toward connecting about 650,000 villages nationwide.

However digital inclusion “continues to stay a distant actuality for many components of rural India“, marred by delays in implementation, and a scarcity of entry and digital literacy, in accordance to a report from the Indian Council for Analysis on Worldwide Financial Relations (ICRIER), a coverage think-tank.

Which may now change due to current coverage strikes together with simpler approvals for satellite broadband community rollouts, and the upcoming launch of satellite broadband from India‘s Bharti Airtel and Jio Platforms, Elon Musk’s Starlink, and others.

“With the saturation of urban markets, there is keen interest among service providers to increase rural subscribership,” mentioned Mansi Kedia, a fellow at ICRIER, and a telecoms and web skilled.

“But rural connectivity should look beyond the dominant technology – optical fibre and mobile communications. The use case for satellite broadband is the strongest in rural areas – it can help achieve connectivity at much lower costs,” she mentioned.



The United Nations acknowledged in 2016 that web entry is a human proper, including a clause to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet,” together with for ladies, ladies, and people impacted by the digital divide.

India was amongst a number of international locations that opposed the modification on the time, and the nation has among the many most internet shutdowns on this planet.

It additionally has one of many lowest prices for cellular information globally, serving to cellular wi-fi to account for the majority of the nation’s 834 million web subscribers. Solely about 24 million subscribers have fastened web connections.

Moreover authorities programmes, private-sector and philanthropic initiatives have additionally helped construct last-mile connectivity and improve digital literacy in rural areas.

“The big telcos will only go into rural areas if it makes economic sense, as it’s more expensive to build infrastructure, and it is for a customer base with less ability to pay,” mentioned Michael Ginguld, a director at AirJaldi, which offers reasonably priced networks in rural and semi-urban areas in India.

“The deeper you went into rural areas, the less demand there was – they can watch a show or a film on their phones. But this is changing, and COVID has hastened that shift, with demand for better connectivity to access education or healthcare,” he mentioned.

AirJaldi, which has partnered with Google, Fb and Microsoft on web initiatives, reaches greater than 200,000 customers in about 1,500 villages in India, together with some that had no cellular connectivity beforehand.



Globally, three-quarters of scholars who can not entry distant studying come from rural areas or poor households, in accordance to the U.N. kids’s company (UNICEF).

Throughout COVID-19 lockdowns, Indian media carried experiences of scholars and lecturers in villages climbing bushes or trekking up hills in an try to get on-line.

Such anecdotes could quickly be a factor of the previous.

Earlier this 12 months, OneWeb and Hughes Communications India – a three way partnership with Bharti Airtel – mentioned they’d an settlement to carry low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband providers, “especially in areas outside the reach of fibre connectivity”.

Final month, Jio Platforms – owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani – mentioned it could launch satellite-based broadband providers in India with Luxembourg-based telecom firm SES, utilizing geostationary and medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites.

Additionally within the combine is Musk’s Starlink, which is ready for its licence in India, and has already launched about 2,000 of its supposed 42,000 LEO satellites to ship web throughout the globe. Amazon’s Mission Kuiper is one other potential entrant.

“The fixed costs for satellite broadband are high, but it has a lower cost of implementation for larger geographical coverage and lower population density, as compared to technologies such as optical fibre cable,” mentioned Kedia.

Residents of the southern Indian village of Sittlingi, who as soon as travelled to one other village about 20 km (12 miles) away to get on-line, couldn’t afford to anticipate satellite broadband.

Nonprofits the Digital Empowerment Basis and the Web Society stepped in in the course of the pandemic, and established a steady web connection within the village utilizing free, unlicensed spectrum.

That meant college students have been in a position to resume courses, farmers might promote their produce on-line, and an indigenous crafts centre discovered new consumers, mentioned Lalitha Regi, supervisor of Porgai, the crafts centre.

“It was like a celebration – getting connectivity,” she mentioned. – Reuters

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