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February 27, 1998


Satellite phone policy awaits new government

Email this story to a friend. The draft 'Global Mobile Personal Communications Systems' policy prepared by the Department of Telecommunications proposes a combination of licence fees and revenue sharing agreements.

The draft policy, which incorporates concerns of security agencies, now awaits the approval of the new government.

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GMPCS services promise a seamless global mobile connectivity delivered through a constellation of satellites.

The system is expected to complement cellular mobile services, since manufacturers will make dual mode handsets available.

When a user oversteps the limits of terrestrial cellular systems, a GMPCS subscriber will continue to be accessible through the satellite network.

Given security considerations as well as policy restrictions, DoT has suggested that switching of international calls originating or terminating in a GMPCS network should be done at gateways operated and maintained and possibly owned by the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, the monopoly government owned international communications services provider.

Under India's commitment to the World Trade Organisation, VSNL's international services monopoly needs to be reviewed in 2004 only.

The stipulation regarding gateways also arises from security considerations since facilities for call monitoring are required.

The draft policy does not prescribe a cap on the number of licensees on the assumption that only a few global operators will offer the service, which requires high capital investment.

At present, only three systems are expected to be fully operational by 2000 - Iridium, Globalstar and ICO Global Communications.

The cost of a system varies from $5 billion (Iridium) to $2.6 billion (Globalstar). ICO had a commitment of around $3 billion by the end of 1996.

The ICO system architecture already provides for routing calls through VSNL since the latter has won the bid to locate one of the system's 12 'satellite access nodes' in India. This automatically makes the country the regional hub for handling international and domestic traffic originating from the ICO satellite system.

VSNL, which is also the second largest investor in ICO Global Communications, will operate the SAN, and therefore control traffic flowing in and out of India.

The Globalstar architecture is similar in the sense that switching and routing of calls is done through the ground segment - the gateways.

Since Globalstar will be locating three gateways in India, international switching will be routed through VSNL.

The Iridium architecture is different since the system has the technical capability for inter-satellite switching. A call made from a satellite phone can be routed between satellites without involving the ground segment.

But since Iridium has located a gateway at Pune to be operated and maintained by VSNL, it may have to operate the system within the regulatory environment and route calls through the ground segment - through the VSNL.

In all systems, traffic flowing from cellular mobile and the PSTN is routed between the gateway switch and the land line network.

The question of revenue sharing arises because companies will have to give a percentage of the revenue per call to VSNL for routing services. This will be in addition to a fixed licence fee. Revenue sharing is always incorporated in the business plans of an operator like Globalstar whose architecture involved routing calls through VSNL.

But, in the case of Iridium, this will be an additional cost since its system can route calls through the inter-satellite links while gateways only determine subscriber validity.

The satellites sent up by Globalstar are only reflectors but the Iridium satellites are capable of switching in orbit.

Iridium has said that mandatory routing of calls through the ground segment will increase the total cost of the system to the consumer.

Frequency allotment is not expected to pose any problems.

While the Iridium service operates in the 1616-1626.5 MHz band for the telephone and messaging service links, Globalstar also operates in a close range - 1610-1621 MHz - for the user-satellite links while the range for the satellite to user link is 2483.5-2500 MHz.

Allotment for ICO Global is expected to be easier since it operates in a much higher frequency band for all user-satellite links - 1980-2019 MHz for user-satellite links and 2170-2200 MHz for satellite-user links.

The first service to be launched commercially will be Iridium's, with the date set for September 23, 1998. Since the company is looking for a simultaneous launch across the world, it is keen that the service be licensed in the next few months.

Globalstar is expected to launch services in late 1998 or early 1999 while ICO will launch in 2000.

Cost to the subscriber could vary. While Globalstar is projecting a tariff of $1-1.5, Iridium is non-committal. The subscriber base is being projected as a percentage of the number of cellular subscribers.

Globalstar, for instance, is looking at a subscriber base pegged to 0.5-1 per cent of the total cellular subscriber base in India. The number of subscribers is expected to increase from 3,000 in 1999 to 30,000 in three years.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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