According to BSNL sources, the talks are in advanced stages, and both sides are looking at various business models and technical issues related to providing satellite-based broadband services. “We have set up an internal team to examine technical and commercial issues relating to the proposed partnership with Inmarsat. Once finalized, BSNL will be able to offer satellite-based broadband services using Inmarsat technologies in remote areas of the country. BSNL will also be able to meet the needs of the Defence forces through this,” said a BSNL official.
Inmarsat is a global satellite services provider and was earlier offering services in India through Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. But this service was practically shut down after the Government divested its majority stake in VSNL to the Tatas. Since then, the London-based firm has been scouting for partners in India. A number of local firms, including BPL Mobile (which offers mobile services in Mumbai) and Dr J.K. Jain-promoted Jain Studios, had earlier explored a partnership with Inmarsat. The U.K. firm had also applied on its own for Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite licence in India.
However, the key issue which is coming in the way of Inmarsat's India strategy is the requirement of setting up an Earth station in India. Security agencies have made it mandatory for satellite companies to have a local earth station if they wanted to offer services here. According to industry estimates, this could cost $20-30 million, but neither Inmarsat nor Indian players are willing to foot this bill. In the case of BSNL too, the Department of Telecom has told the PSU to set up the local gateway if it wants to partner with Inmarsat. However, BSNL officials said that since security monitoring is a Government requirement, the funding for the same has to come from the Government. “We are looking at how to meet the security requirement without spoiling the business case. Setting up a local gateway is an expensive proposition,” said the BSNL official.
One of the options being looked at by the company is to set up a virtual gateway. This would provide security agencies access to data flowing through the network and at the same time the cost of setting up a virtual station is less than a million dollars. If the deal goes through, BSNL will be able to offer high speed broadband services on mobile devices using satellite technology. A similar type of service was earlier planned by ISRO through a tie up with Bangalore-based satellite technology firm Devas Multimedia. But this deal was scrapped by the Government last year. BSNL officials said that its proposed service with Inmarsat cannot be compared with the Isro-Devas deal as BSNL had all the licences required to offer telecom services. (Source: The Hindu Business Line)