SatPhones are here for the rest of us in India

01st July 2019
SatPhones are here for the rest of us in India

 The 'General Public'  can now buy  a Satellite Phone in India. So why is government so coy about it?
Bangalore, July 1 2019: This must be one of the best kept secrets, but  Indians are  now free to buy and use a satellite phone, a device that  uses  networks of  communication satellites,  rather than earthbound towers to connect any corner of the globe. 
The  'general public' is invited  to  fill up a customer acquisition form, submit it to government telecom provider,  BSN,   buy a satphone  from  one of 7 franchisees  listed and  use a BSNL-supplied SIM. This became possible because in May 2017, UK-based  global  satellite communication provider  Inmarsat  partnered  with  BSNL  to open a Global Satellite Phone Service gateway, in Ghaziabad. By locating the gateway within the country,  Inmarsat  met the government's  need for lawful interception and  addressed security concerns about the use of such phones.  
The   Inmarsat model on offer -- IsatPhone 2 -- costs around Rs 70,000, making it cheaper than some premium  GSM mobile phones.   For  non-government users, incoming and outgoing calls are billed at Rs 35/minute  and roaming calls  cost  Rs 260/minute... prices  that may  remind some of the early days of cellphones. Disaster  situations  like the floods in Kerala last year and in Chennai in 2015  highlighted how  cellular phone networks can collapse, just when they are needed most.  Defence, Police and national  relief agencies  can obviously leverage satellite phones, but it is surprising how slow civilian  agencies have been in harnessing satphones  once their use became legal in India.   BSNL imported some 6000 IsatPhone2 handsets  and  has sold just over 5000 in 2 years.  
Many private corporates and lay citizens whose work takes them into remote areas outside GSM coverage  would benefit from  using satphones, since they don't depend on a terrestrial network, but some challenges remain:   Restrictions about using such phones in areas like  J&K, north east, coastal Gujarat  have become  meaningless, now that the gateway is located in India,  but have not yet  been rescinded.  And foreigners who  pass through India carrying satphones not knowing  about local regulations,  routinely face  confiscation of their devices, even arrest.   Customs   officials still   invoke "Wireless Telegraphy" Acts  dating back to  1933...  and 1885! Once satphones  are legal in India, such  archaic regulations border on the bizarre.
The upside is: the  slow recognition that a nation which aspires to be digitally driven, cannot afford to shun any communication technology, be it satphones or 5G,  that will  connect us, empower us and save lives.
 "Access to satellite phone communications   in India is now both simplified and seamless  for users throughout the country" says  Inmarsat's India  Managing Director,  Gautam Sharma. Amen to that -- but let's iron out some residual kinks and irritants asap.

Footnote: Inmarsat  which has been offering maritime communications to Indian ships for decades,  will also partner BSNL  shortly  to offer  in-flight Internet services on commercial flights,  using  its GX  Aviation services.  One of  the largest  Indian airlines,  is said to have  signed up.