Telecom regulator TRAI recommended that BSNL be allowed to set up a new gateway for providing satellite phone services, a move that will address the urgent requirement of this facility by security forces. “The DoT may authorize BSNL to establish Gateway immediately under ‘sui generis’ category,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said in its recommendation. The recommendation from TRAI has come following demands from security agencies to DoT, the nodal body for authorizing communication services, for setting up a satellite phone gateway in the country. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in December 2013 had sought TRAI’s view on providing ‘INMARSAT Services’ under new telecom licenses.
International Mobile Satellite Organization (INMARSAT) was set up under aegis of United Nations in 1979 and India was one of the founding members. India had set up one gateway required for satellite phone service in Pune under Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (now Tata Communications Ltd). However, new license conditions in 2001 made it mandatory to set up gateway in country for satellite phone services and currently there is no company that holds permit for the same. Satellite phones in India are presently provided by TCL, which inherited the license from VSNL. Some limited numbers of users of land mobile have also been permitted by the DoT on a case-to-case basis. There are 1,532 authorized satellite phone connections that can operate within country and a majority of them are used by security forces. TCL has also issued 4,143 permits to maritime community for use of such phones at ships.
Trai said that there are security concerns on some satellite phones used by paramilitary forces that were supplied by foreign operators. There is a possibility that communication through such phones of being monitored by foreign agencies as their gateways are located outside India, it added. Also, a foreign operator who has provided these terminals does not have any valid license in the country. The terminals were provided at during recent emergency relief operations. “Because of these reasons, defense has not opted for satellite phones from the foreign operators and they and other security agencies have been demanding for a long time for establishment of a new gateway in the country which can support new generation handsets for land mobile connections,” TRAI said.
Presently, there are many terminals with security forces that will progressively become non-operative starting September 2014, the regulator said. TRAI has recommended that DoT may consider request of BSNL for waiver of entry fee, processing fee and performance bank guarantee for such authorization. The regulator recommended that DoT may levy a license fee of 8 percent from revenue that BSNL will earn from satellite phone services.