Relevance and use of the article in UPSC prelims and mains examination: This article is About development of indigenous satellite functioning system so that the online and e-services will be received to every citizen of india in a much democratic and sovereign manner.The LEO satellite constellation has important implications for transcontinental communications. It can be used for meeting the 25 million Indian diaspora's demand for familiar media, entertainment and other interactive services. This constellation could easily service the maritime requirements, which is a rising demand in the Indian Ocean.
- Science and technology has had a significant impact in how we lead our lives today. Technological innovations and access to information have changed the way human beings interact with each other. It is now common to look up things we need to know on the Internet, in the same way as a few who had access to libraries in the past, to make our interactions with professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, etc., more sharp and relevant. Internet penetration is increasing at a more rapid pace, especially since the introduction of smartphones.
- The number of WhatsApp users exceeds one billion, while a similar interactive service by Skype languishes at 75 million users (the latter registered by email address rather than cell phone number). They confirm an inexorable mobile trend. India has over 400,000 cell phone towers and providing satellite connectivity to them allows universal coverage.
Geostationary (GEO) satellites
- In recent years, geostationary (GEO) satellites have emerged as an alternate option for providing Internet access. A geostationary satellite is located 36,000 km above the Earth’s equator and has a wider field of view — one satellite can look at one-third of the Earth’s surface. This allows an Internet service provider (ISP) to acquire customers across a vast geographical area, albeit at a low throughput. Spotbeam services through GEO High Throughput Satellite (HTS) provide higher data rates. Both the ISP and the customers are wirelessly connected to the satellite via the individual antenna dishes. However, the power and regulatory limitations of mobile phones prevents them from accessing them.
- There is a strong imperative to enable Internet connectivity, especially in rural areas. In addition, India, which has the fastest growing economy with a young workforce, is struggling to bridge the ‘digital divide.’ By June 2016, 462 million (39% of the total population) have been connected to the Internet. But the demographic dividend that India keeps boasting of, especially at a time when our neighbours are caught in an ageing society, will turn into a demographic disaster if India does not make some critical decisions.
- It has also been estimated that India could add an extra $1 trillion to its Gross Domestic Product by 2020 if India were to achieve 100 percent Internet connectivity.
- Extending Internet access to all especially in the rural areas is therefore fast becoming a goal for governments, including that of India. The economic imperative may be particularly compelling. About 45,000 Indian villages have universal mobile connectivity, while 120,000 villages will be connected via the Rural Internet Mission, the primary means being extending fibre-optic connectivity. However, over 100,000 villages will remain unconnected, resulting in a socially and politically untenable digital divide. Low-cost smartphones are most citizens’ access devices of choice. Given the penetration of smartphones in rural areas of India, Internet connectivity could be provided using the already existing cell phone tower infrastructure. This approach could be realised via a constellation of high throughput LEO satellites beaming Internet to remote cell phone towers.
LEO Satellite-based Internet
- The US Federal Communications Commission issued first call for Ka band satellite Internet applications in 1995. Amongst the applicants was Teledesic, a company that planned to operate 840 low earth orbit satellites (LEO) for providing Internet..
- According to the International Telecommunications Union, the number of subscribers opting for satellite based Internet is expected to rise from 1.5 million in 2011 to about six million in 2020. The high throughput satellites (HTS) are designed to provide services at least twice and up to 20 times the capacity of a normal satellite.
- But ‘latency’ continues to be a problem for this market. Latency is the amount of time a packet of data takes to travel from the subscriber to the server via the satellite and return.
- The latency is approximately 500 milliseconds in case of geostationary satellites. Although this is not a problem for several services on the Internet, subscribers face time delay and hence inconvenience during live streaming and interactive gaming sessions.
Indian scenario uses and issues:
Here we examine a future low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations to lower costs.
- The LEO satellite constellation has important implications for transcontinental communications. It can be used for meeting the 25 million Indian diaspora’s demand for familiar media, entertainment and other interactive services. This constellation could easily service the maritime requirements, which is a rising demand in the Indian Ocean. In particular,
- it allows communications to shipping lanes and fishing vessels into far reaches of adjacent oceans. In some island nations, e.g., Fiji, Mauritius and Trinidad (the three having exclusive economic zones — EEZs — of over 3.5 million sq. km), Indian diaspora percentages are politically significant. India could leverage the inexpensive global connectivity afforded by LEO constellations to participate in developing these island nations’ EEZs and engage them in our Science and Technology (S&T) activities, e.g., the three referenced island nations are exactly eight times zones apart and could form an independent Indian deep-space network.
- The LEO satellite constellation has important implications for transcontinental communications. It can be used for meeting the 25 million Indian diaspora’s demand for familiar media, entertainment and other interactive services. This constellation could easily service the maritime requirements, which is a rising demand in the Indian Ocean.
- With better coordination in the spectrum allocation, any signal interference from the LEO constellation can be easily detected and resolved. Since the power output is generally lower than that is required for a geostationary satellite, the interference is minimised by design itself. However, the congestion of LEO as well as satellite end-of-life concerns are yet to be debated, especially when hundreds of satellites are being operated for a service.
- These roadblocks can be effectively surmounted by coordination between different agencies and adopting new technologies. Since the gains from operating such a constellation far outweighs the costs, it is worth debating this proposal.
- While the idea of satellite-based Internet is not a new one, there has been recent spurt with interest from some of the major players such as SpaceX and OneWeb. But the idea has not gained huge traction because of one problem — latency. As mentioned earlier, these are not serious for regular Internet access, but those engaged in online gaming or videoconferencing sessions could be seriously affected.
- Placing satellites on LEO will address the latency issue to a great extent, but the coverage will remain as compared to the GEO satellites which are at around 22,000 miles above. This means there will be have to be higher number of LEO satellites for greater coverage. The costs have come down significantly from the 1990s when the idea was originally experimented with, but will these become feasible and affordable remain a question but an idea worth exploring, yet again.