Ahead of the launch of Digital India week on July 1, Sunil Bharti Mittal-led Bharti Enterprises has participated in a satellite-based global initiative to enable internet penetration in rural areas at low costs and to help operators tide over the spectrum crunch and overloaded and congested networks.
The net impact will be internet for all at affordable rates and goodbye to call drops and congested networks, without the need to set up more towers.
Speaking from London, Mittal said the initiative will be a game-changer for India: “Not only would it help us connect most rural parts of the country with internet at most affordable rates, it would also do away with the problem of erecting more towers.”
He said the initiative will complement the government’s efforts to bridge the digital divide and would be faster than the national optic fibre network being laid by the government.
Mittal said that though Bharti Enterprises has exclusive rights to distribute this network in India, Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — all countries where group company Bharti Airtel has operations — he would not go for an exclusive approach but share it with other operators.
“Our approach is — more the better. We won’t have any exclusive approach to it and will share it with other operators and create a larger ecosystem,” Mittal said.
OneWeb is a global consortium that aims to provide affordable internet access to all. Apart from Bharti Enterprises, Qualcomm Incorporated, Virgin Group, Airbus Group, Coca-Cola Company, Intelsat and Grupo Salinas are the other investors in the company, which plans to start services in 2019.
An initial investment of $500 million has been committed for the project, which would go up to $2.5-3 billion. Mittal said that as and when required more money would be raised.
The company aims to build a communication network with an initial constellation of 648 low-earth orbit satellites that will provide connectivity to billions of people around the world. The OneWeb User Terminals contain embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and Wifi access capabilities that extend the reach of mobile operators.
This is how the system would work: The satellites will provide high-speed connectivity to a small user terminal that transmits broadband access via wifi, LTE, 3G and 2G to the surrounding area. This access will operate on the mobile operator’s billing platform with the mobile operator’s cell phone. For instance, if an Airtel user walks near a terminal and if there is no macrocell tower around, or if the tower is overloaded, the cell phone will connect to the terminal and operate as normal, using either the prepaid or postpaid billing platform of Bharti. Thus, any user handset can “roam” onto the OneWeb network, but wouldn’t know they are roaming.