SEVERAL PEOPLE associated with controversial Indian space start-up Devas Multimedia, including a founder, have launched a similar business in the United States by buying an unused satellite launched by a private company in 2001. Ramachandran Viswan-athan, founder and current CEO of Devas Multimedia, and Lawrence Babbio, Devas’s present chairman, are among key people involved with Omnispace LLC, a US start-up trying to use S-band satellite spectrum to provide 3G telecom and data services on mobiles.
Devas Multimedia is embroiled in a multi-billion dollar dispute with the Central government over cancellation of a 2005 deal with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to launch satellites to deliver digital video broadcasting services for mobile phones.
While Viswanathan — among eight people accused of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption in a CBI chargesheet filed in the case in August 2016 — is Omnispace’s president and CEO, Lawrence Babbio is a director in the US start-up firm. Others linked to Devas and now associated with Omnispace, as per US filings by the company, are Rajendra Singh, Serge Martin and Gary Parsons — all of them have been directors at Devas.
Omnispace was launched in 2012 in the US, shortly after the Devas satellite deal with ISRO’s Antrix Corporation was scrapped in 2011 by the then Manmohan Singh-led UPA government citing security reasons. Omnispace has bought an unused satellite from a private UK satellite firm, in which Indian telecom firm VSNL had invested in the late 1990s before VSNL was sold to Tata Communications.
Omnispace has received several rounds of funding. In applications to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for signal testing, the firm has claimed ownership of the F2 satellite, which lay unused after it was launched in 2001 by a private satellite firm ICO Global Communications. “F2 has never been used for commercial services. In 2012, Omnispace bought the F2 satellite and proceeded with developing a business plan by which the satellite could be used for commercial services,’’ Omnispace said in an application to the US FCC.
Like Devas, Omnispace is also attempting to use satellites to create a “global satellite-based mobile communications system that will offer digital data and voice services as well as the satellite equivalent of third-generation (3G) wireless services, including wireless Internet and other packet-data services’’. Vishwanathan has not appeared before the CBI and the Directorate of Enforcement.