The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) generates substantial revenue through its commercial arm, Antrix Corp., which is the sole authorized regulator for what satellite bandwidth, and how much, can be sold in India. The fact that ISRO and Antrix operate India’s own fleet of telecommunications satellites while forcing foreign satellite operators to go through Antrix for business has been a subject of debate in India and among global fleet operators. ISRO’s just-released annual report gives no indication that the agency is ready to further open India’s domestic satellite telecommunications market. Credit: ISRO
PARIS — India’s space agency has no intention of loosening its grip on the availability and price of telecommunications satellite transponders, saying its Antrix commercial arm is doing fine as the gatekeeper to India’s domestic market.
In its 2016-2017 annual report, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) makes no mention of the prices that India’s direct-to-home (DTH) television or VSAT customers pay for satellite bandwidth, or the supply-demand equation.
It applauds Antrix’s steady harvest of income from non-Indian satellite operators, whose capacity is used to fill the gap between India’s domestic supply and its growing demand.
“There has been a steady increase in the revenue and customer base of the company,” ISRO says of Antrix. “The transponder provisioning services have registered a significant growth in business operations.”
ISRO operates a fleet of 13 geostationary telecommunications satellites as part of its stated mission to “provide the required satellite transponders and facilities to meet the communication, television broadcasting and security requirements of our country.”
ISRO also provides both government and commercial launch services. The PSLV launch vehicle has seen a substantial growth in its appeal to non-Indian operators of small, and some not-so-small, commercial Earth observation satellites.
On Feb. 15 the PSLV completed its most spectacular mission, orbiting an Indian Earth observation satellite and 103 smaller satellites, 101 of which were non-Indian. Ninety-six were from two U.S. commercial fleet operators, Planet and Spire Global.
ISRO says Antrix negotiated the sale of PSLV launch services to 79 international customer satellites between 1999 and 2016. The Feb. 15 flight increases that number to 178.
The office of India’s prime minister said revenue from foreign satellite owners using the PSLV rocket between 2013 and 2015 totaled $101 million.
ISRO/Antrix is both referee and market player for satellite bandwidth
Non-Indian satellite fleet operators have complained for years that ISRO’s role as both owner/operator of domestic telecommunications satellites should disqualify it as the gatekeeper to foreign telecommunications satellite access to India’s market.
ISRO has been slow to keep up with demand, especially for Ku-band capacity that has followed the growth of India’s DTH market. As of mid-2015, according to India’s telecommunications authority, there were more than 81 million registered DTH customers.
India counts seven DTH operators including the public broadcaster, Doordharshan. In total, these broadcasters were using 92 Ku-band transponders from India’s domestic fleet and foreign satellites, plus 30 transponders for television uplink. Doordharshan alone uses 19.25 transponders, ISRO says.
The transponder count is measured in 36-megahertz equivalents.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said that as of Dec. 31, 2015, the six private-sector DTH providers had registered 56 million subscribers.
100 transponders leased from non-Indian satellite operators
“In order to meet additional transponder requirements from various users, about 100 transponders in C- and Ku-band are leased from international satellite operators, through Antrix Corp., on a back-to-back arrangement with users and satellite operators,” ISRO says.
ISRO is part of India’s Department of Space, whose 2017-2018 fiscal year budget is 90.94 billion Indian rupees, or $1.34 billion. In rupees, the budget reflects a 13 percent increase over the 2016-2017 budget year’s revised total.
ISRO work force is 20% women, and 16% fluent in Hindi
The Department of Space employees 16,902 people in 2016, a figure the agency said is likely to rise. Twenty percent were women.
The annual report devotes a large section to ISRO’s adoption of the government policy of making Hindi the language of preference. ISRO has held Hindi Day, Hindi Week, Hindi Fortnight and Hindi Month activities at all its facilities.
Each ISRO site can look forward to an annual inspection by government watchdogs checking on the progress of Hindi as the daily language at the space agency.
The Department of Space says that as of late 2016, about 16 percent of its work force was proficient in Hindi, with more than 80 percent possessing a working knowledge of the language.