India Opens Inflight Data Market to U.K. Satellite Firm Inmarsat

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(Bloomberg) -- British satellite operator Inmarsat Holdings Ltd said it’s the first foreign operator to get India’s approval to sell high-speed broadband to planes and shipping vessels.

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Inmarsat will access the market via Indian state-owned telecommunications company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, after BSNL received a license from India’s Department of Telecommunications, the London-based company said in a statement Wednesday. A representative for the Indian government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment outside of ordinary business hours.

Inmarsat has struck deals with Indian airline SpiceJet Ltd and the Shipping Corp of India Ltd, Chief Executive Officer Rajeev Suri said in an interview. The operator already offered reliable but low-data “L-band” services in India. The new license lets it offer much faster 4G-like “Ka-band” broadband on its GX network.

Millions of Indian consumers and businesses are flooding onto the internet, and businesses are jostling to provide it.

Inmarsat’s connectivity comes from satellites in geostationary orbit, but it will likely end up competing with new deep-pocketed low-earth orbit satellite rivals like Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp and Indian telecommunications tycoon Sunil Mittal’s OneWeb, which beam broadband from much closer to the earth.

Before the aviation sector was hobbled by the pandemic, in-flight broadband was Inmarsat’s fastest-growing unit. The company was acquired by a private equity consortium for $3.4 billion last year.

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