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Starlink's Satellite Internet is Open to Enter Nepal

Starlink's satellite internet is open to enter Nepal

Starlink's satellite internet is open to enter Nepal

Thursday, Kathmandu 
Nepal Telecommunication Authority, the regulatory body of telecommunication services including mobile, telephone and internet of Nepal, has reached 23 years of its establishment today.  NTC is such a body, which is working to regulate the services and service providers that started years ago.  Due to its young age, NTC has not been able to regulate technically more experienced and expert companies.  Purushottam Khanal, who is leading the NTC as the chairperson, has completed two years of his five-year tenure.  What is he doing to effectively establish the authority in regulation?  How are the issues in this area resolved?  What initiatives have been taken to introduce new technology in telecommunications?  Conversation by our reporter for Sanjun around these issues. 

Do you think I did some remarkable work in the authority during the first two years of your tenure?

The biggest achievement of this sector is that we cleaned the orbital slot that Nepal got years ago as a resource but could not use it and in one sense it was occupied by another.  NTC played a leading role in that and paved the way for Nepal to launch its own satellite.  Other technical and procurement issues are different.  I think it was a historic initiative. Another thing is that we also implemented the long-delayed spectrum auction in Nepal.  Even though everyone wanted it and the market was ready, it could not move forward for years.

Before that, there was no rule to distribute frequencies.  There was a situation where the frequency was distributed as soon as it was fixed.  Ending that kind of trend, for the first time in Nepal's history, we distributed spectrum through action. Even then, 61 percent more than the basic price has been pledged.  From this, we have also significantly increased the revenue of the state.  Now we are giving the message that the medium of giving frequency is only action and it cannot be distributed by vaccination in the future. Of course, the Frequency Policy 2073 had made arrangements for distribution through frequency auction.  But due to various reasons, the policy could not be implemented, we were able to implement it.

Another issue is that the tendency of not operating the service for a long time but occupying the license should be discouraged and we have made arrangements to revoke the license of such service provider.  There was also the issue of arrears to the government.  However, the government has extended sometime after hearing the appeals of the service providers. 900 bands, 1800 bands are golden bands for frequencies.  Service providers occupying such important frequencies have closed the shutters.  We told them to run the service or we would revoke your license.  This in itself was a big decision in this area.

Even now, NTC is not in favor of holding the license.  If this is not the case then maybe we can do something about it. On the other hand, we have not only done frequency action, we have given mandated service providers to expand Forge service nationwide by 2022.  For this, we have imposed the same conditions and restrictions on both the service providers (Ncell and Nepal Telecom).  NTC is very firm in that. Similarly, the Telecommunications Act has not been amended for 23 years.  The fact that we even approved the draft from the board and recommended it to the government for amendment is also a milestone in itself.

Second, the country did not have a cybersecurity policy.  We have brought regulations for telecom and internet service providers to follow.  Now security is not only possible with guns or guards.  Now is the time for cybersecurity.  It must be focused on.  For this, we have made arrangements to install cyber shirts till next year. We have recommended to the government to have a separate shirt in the telecom sector and a separate shirt in the financial sector.  It has also drawn the attention of the country's security agencies and everyone has become aware.

Another thing is that the important work that I have taken forward since my arrival is that we have recommended to the government to open 5G.  In fact, Nepal is truly a technology-neutral country.  This means that new technology will not be stopped under any pretext. The class that should get the upgrade and benefit of technology, the class must get it.  We've worked hard to send a message to 5G that it's not just an updated version of Forge, and not to mention the benefits it brings.  In it, we have talked about providing free frequencies for the 5G test.

We have stipulated that the state will not charge for the frequency during the trial period and the service provider will also provide free service to the customer.  Apart from that, we have made an arrangement to have a paid-up capital of Rs. 40 million for internet services to be disorganized. If you look at it now, it has been 3/4, no new license has been issued.  Because no one else has been able to complete that kind of compliance during this period.  We have made this arrangement so that the issuance of a large number of licenses for internet service does not lead to another delay.

Mobile Device Management (MDMS) is no longer just a story.  Now that this is being implemented, the last LC has been opened and we have started the construction work by signing an agreement with a consultant to construct a data center building on NTC's own land for the establishment of the mobile device management system. Similarly, we have been able to connect every ward of the two states with optical fiber and we have worked to provide internet service in remote areas like Karnali.  With this, the work of the broadband project put forward by NTC has been completed about 75 percent.  This has laid a great foundation for the country to move towards digitization.

Complaints are coming from various quarters that the broadband project has not been implemented effectively.  On the other hand, some projects have not been completed even after the stipulated period.  How are you looking at this issue?

There were various disruptions and the world came to a standstill due to COVID.  Due to this, the equipment could not be imported in time.  If everything had gone smoothly, it would have been possible to say that we have done 95 percent of the work while talking about it now.  But it seems that the broadband project will have to wait until the middle of the next fiscal year to be fully completed. In the rest of the time, work was done in the quake-affected areas.  But due to the neutrality of technology, internet service was provided through VISIT technology.  Radio link or fiber technology could not be taken to those areas. Now we are thinking about how to manage those visas.  Accordingly, there is talk of transferring those visas to remote and mountainous areas where other technologies cannot be reached and bringing the internet through the latest technology to the earthquake-affected districts.

Does this mean a separate project to replace the old technology in those areas?

If there was a radio link, you would have thought of taking fiber.  We are currently working with service providers on displacing VISAT in areas where fiber has reached. For example, in places like Darchula, we removed the visa and connected it through a radio link.  Thus, even though VISAT is not a final solution, we are moving forward in the sense that it is a means of compelling situation.

Even when it is time to take advantage of the information highway, which is seen as the backbone of the country in information technology, the direction of construction is not being grasped.  Why is this kind of extreme delay happening?

The Mid-Hill Highway was considered as the basis while designing the backbone project.  At first, it lacked two things.  A mid-hill highway is not ready in itself.  In such a situation, it was not possible to spread fiber on the highway. On the other hand, there was no inter-agency coordination.  At the ministry level, there were attempts at facilitation at the development committee level, but not at the implementation level.  Due to this, the manpower that had been mobilized could not be returned due to the obstruction of roads and obstruction by the forest.  Also, there has been a delay in the tender process. On the other hand, in our tender process, we have to choose the lowest bidding provider.  Since the selected service provider could not complete the work, there was no other option but to cancel the tender agreement.  As such, a project is now stuck in a court case.

Nepal Telecom has almost completed the work in Provinces 1, 2, and 3.  Information has also been extracted in 6th and 7th.  We also understand the situation of delay as Nepal Telecom has to follow the government procurement process in full. But consumers are not satisfied that the project will be delayed and they will not be able to benefit from it.  These projects have been delayed due to compelling circumstances.  We are still discussing with the Ministry of Planning Commission how to do this on a fast track even today.

Thus, there is a possibility that the court will hold it indefinitely.  Is it possible to say that the efforts of the people here have not been enough to end the court process quickly? 

This is a matter that NTC has already informed the government through its challan.  But according to the principle of separation of powers, the government should not interfere in the proceedings of the court.  There is no process for anybody to resolve my issue quickly.

Of course, the workload of the court is also a matter.  But it is worth mentioning here that it is time to think about the issues related to such development projects which are the first priority of the nation in a fast track. Some things happen in the field of technology, after a certain time it may not be useful.  For example, the issue of ILD monitoring has been in court for more than two years.  Now, even if a decision is made, it is time for us to think about how effective it is in terms of technology.

It has been a long time since the MDMS project was started with the objective of controlling the illegal entry of mobile phones into the country.  The black market could not be controlled as the project was not completed on time.  Can't say for sure when the project will be completed? 

Certainly, we have reached a point where we can say.  There are all the logical reasons behind stopping MDMS.  Due to COVID, it is not possible to install and connect when all traffic is closed.  Not because of us. In the meantime, the government of Nepal had decided to give us the land, but Radio Nepal could not give us the land that it did not own.  Now where to keep without land?  That is why the project has been delayed. Finally, we have decided to keep the land in Chabahil on the land of the Nepal Telecommunication Authority.  Now I can say with certainty, we will bring the mobile device management system into operation by next May.

Although there are many telecommunication service providers, other service providers are not operating well.  As a result, consumers are deprived of the opportunity to consume services at competitive prices, what think about getting it on track?

Although one case has gone to court, the government has extended the deadline for two service providers.  However, NEA has already started the process of bringing in new service providers by dismissing all the three service providers that are not in operation.  Who could come to a state of competition?

But there is also an allegation that the license was withheld even when CG tried to come?

In the case of CG, the government envisioned a unified license in place of the scattered licenses in the name of rural telecommunications services.  The government published the Gazette and set the prerequisites for a unified license. In case of fulfilling these preconditions, the authority will not be able to withhold the license even if it wants to.  But here it is said that you have to get a license without fulfilling the condition.  At that time, the prescribed BTS or exchange should have been established in the VDCs of the specified districts.  If they meet those conditions, we are ready to issue a unified license.

How long do you wait for CG to come and get the license?

The same is true not only in CG's hair but also in the case of UTL, Nepal Satellite, which has closed its shutters.  They don't have a single customer right now.  For all three, there is a do-or-die situation.  There is a situation where the service itself is not operated and even the preconditions are not fulfilled.

The NTC has already prepared a report after conducting an internal study to give another chance to the state.  That is to come by fulfilling the precondition, otherwise, the license will be revoked. However, NTC is concerned about the lack of competition and consumers not getting the option of choice.  Now, if I came, I would have done it, but I would not have given the license without fulfilling the necessary conditions.

There are laws and regulations at a time when there is a trend of rivers flowing in bags.  The 23-year-old law could not predict the current development. This is no longer the case today.  The frequency is auctioned, the one who has the spectrum operates the service. When the price goes up by buying a license, then there is no time to wait for those who are waiting to sell.  Now, whoever gets spectrum from bidding, gets permission to operate the service.  We are moving forward in the same modality.

Isn't the issue of spectrum action limited to all the existing six service providers, let alone those who fulfill certain preconditions?

Now the action is of an open nature.  After the amendment of the Act, it is important for the current 6 service providers, or service providers who do not operate the service, to understand that once I have obtained the license, now others cannot come. I held on and occupied Nepal's telecommunications sector and now even when there is action, we are only in the middle and others think that they can't come, that's wrong. The amendment to the new Telecommunications Act does not envisage such a situation. The spectrum is openly auctioned and whoever wins operates the telecommunications service. This is what the new amendment envisions.  We can no longer keep the old kind of distortion for long. Because our main goal is to make the impact of telecommunication services in other areas in the form of crushing, the positive impact on the implementation of Digital Nepal, and the benefits to the consumers.  We are not in favor of compromise on that.

Recently, the revenue of telecommunication companies has been declining due to OTT services.  How is the regulatory body looking at this issue from a changed perspective?

The inability of service providers to upgrade themselves with time and technology and to diversify their services has also played a role in this.  We, the telecom service providers, have taken expensive charges from the customers, which should be reduced. The issue of providing services to customers at affordable prices and increasing the income of service providers cannot go hand in hand.  The service of telecommunication service providers is becoming cheaper not only in Nepal but also in the world.  The cheaper the service, the lower the income.

We are asking you to reduce the fee for ILD.  We are trying to reduce the interconnection fee.  Now service providers should focus on ICT services created by telecommunications services and also invest in the crushing sector. If Nepal's service providers are willing to make any kind of apps, the Government of Nepal and the regulatory body are positive to prioritize them.  There are also a number of services that allow people to leave the country because of the small size of the tax situation.

Telecommunication service providers can diversify their investments to replace such services.  Similarly, the cost of service providers is greatly reduced when infrastructure is shared. Due to a lack of adequate spectrum, service providers are investing heavily in infrastructure.  We are gradually moving towards providing a spectrum.

How much do you think the current high taxes and renewal fees are an obstacle to moving forward with the new modality?

This is something we have already predicted. This has been covered by the proposed Telecommunications Act.  Now it is a matter of maintaining the renewal fee on the basis of income.  Those who earn more pay more and those who earn less pay less.  Some developed countries are regulating in the same way. Another thing is that the issue of imposing more taxes in the telecommunications sector has been unfair.  Of course, it also comes down to the revenue and revenue of the state.  However, there is a need to shift the revenue and taxes that telecommunication services can create to other sectors.

The issue of implementing infrastructure sharing seems to have been controversial lately.  How is the regulator thinking about resolving this issue?

There was no reason to get involved.  In fact, the NTC was not formed with the objective of maintaining a monopoly in the telecommunications sector.  The main objective and objective of the Telecommunication Act, Broadband Policy, Telecommunication Policy, which came with the objective of establishing NTC, is to create an environment in which foreign investors can also come to Nepal in a competitive manner. Therefore, the idea of ​​making only one is against the open economy taken by the government.  Service providers should also have the opportunity to choose. Large infrastructure and small infrastructure require separate expertise.  For that reason, licenses can be issued for small infrastructure on a provincial basis.  But for large infrastructure, two licenses have to be issued. I have seen the need to prevent double investment in infrastructure and to give two permits without dispute in terms of competition and the need for alternative infrastructure.

Does the Authority envisage any kind of timetable for testing the 5G technology and operating the service commercially by spectrum action?

The issue of testing 5G is in the annual program of Nepal Telecom and also in the program of NTC.  On this basis, we have moved the proposal forward.  This issue has also been discussed in the Ministry.  It is expected that a decision will be taken by the end of this month. These include providing frequencies for the 5G test and identifying new bands.  You don't have to go to Axon for testing.  For that, it is said that the frequency will be provided free of cost for one year and the service provider will not be allowed to charge any fee from the customer. But in order to go commercial, we have to go through action even if it is between at least two service providers.  Also, by amending the Act, the issue of bringing in new service providers on the basis of spectrum action may also move forward.

SpaceLink's StarLink has started providing internet service to different countries through satellite.  How much space is there to enter Nepal in the background of increasing the process even in neighboring countries?

At present, Nepal's law does not in any way impede the operation of broadband services through any medium.  However, in some cases, permission from certain bodies may be required.  We have never banned the technology that comes with the required qualifications. Internet service provider company Worldlink has also received foreign investment.  With at least 20 percent Nepali share ownership, the way is open for Starlink's Internet to come to Nepal.  In this sense, they can serve in Nepal if they want. The body that regulates such a large telecommunications sector does not even have its own office building.  It is said that the regulation has not been effective even due to lack of permanent building to maintain the infrastructure including lab and data center.

Regular annual program but no progress in building your own building, why such a situation?

I think it should be viewed from two angles.  The belief that an institution should have its own building for institutional development is outdated.  According to the new assumption, thinking is done on the basis of cost effectiveness analysis.  However, this does not mean that the authority does not need its own building. Radio Nepal will give land to NTC.  But the land could not be obtained in time.  We had written to the Government of Nepal with the desire to have an iconic building of NEA outside the residential area.

The process of handing over the land in Khumaltar could not be completed for a long time.  There was no talk of constructing a building without getting land.  NTC has 2 ropanis and 10 acres of land in Chawhil.  The work of keeping the mobile device management system and lab of NTC has progressed there. NTC's office is preparing to move to a national dance hall owned by the government of Nepal.  After that, the NTC will probably not have to relocate until it has its own building.  In a sense, NTC has been relieved of the obligation to move its office from one place to another.  After acquiring the land, we build our own building.

NTC does not lack the necessary resources for that.  The process is underway for 42 ropanis of land in Khumaltar.  This is enough to run the necessary building, lab, training center and even the operation station of the satellite. But since the decision has been taken by the Council of Ministers, we will not be able to buy more or less than that.  If the situation turns upside down, then the decision has to be taken by the Council of Ministers.

Is there any message from the regulator to the telecommunication sector and general consumers on the occasion of NTC's anniversary?

Despite Nepal's difficult geographical location and limited manpower, we are regulating such a large telecommunications sector.  On top of that, the 100-year-old Nepal Telecom has to be regulated by a 23-year-old organization.  In such a situation, there may be some obstacles during regulation. The technology invented somewhere in the United States is awakening the desire of remote users in Nepal to consume it.  Faced with this kind of challenge, the regulatory body cannot get the kind of wow. As technology changes overnight, so does the authority involved in the law-making process, given its seriousness and speed.

Starlink Broadband Internet Launching Globally By September

Starlink’s broadband internet may launch globally by September this year. The company’s President Gwynne Shotwell says it has deployed around 18,000 LEO satellites and once they reach their orbits, the satellite internet would be ready for its worldwide coverage.

The President did admit that the company is yet to get approvals from respective governments in the countries before it could provide its much-awaited satellite broadband internet.

Starlink is a satellite internet company set up by SpaceX in 2015. The Elon Musk-backed company had two prototype test-flight of satellites in February 2018. Since then, the company has continuously sent more satellites into their orbits for wider network reach.

“We’ve successfully deployed 1,800 or so satellites and once all those satellites reach their operational orbit, we will have continuous global coverage, so that should be like September timeframe,” Shotwell told a Macquarie Group technology conference via webcast. “But then we have regulatory works to go into every country and get approved to provide telecoms services.”

Read: Everything about Amazon’s Space Internet Project Kuipe

Starlink’s Current Availability

Starlink’s beta service is now available in 11 countries that include the US, Australia, New Zealand, and some countries in Europe. In May, Musk said Starllink’s satellite broadband had received 500,000 pre-orders. He also said Starlink will come off its beta in summer.

Meanwhile, Starlink’s low latency internet is now up for pre-orders in India for $99 which goes above INC. 7,000. However, India’s Department of Telecommunications has called on Starlink’s Parent company SpaceX to first acquire its licenses before they could begin their internet service in the country.

Sources have reported that India’s DoT doesn’t intend to be a roadblock in the US company’s ambitions in India. But first, it must adhere to the country’s existing laws and get required licenses to land its much-hyped satellite internet to the Indian consumers. Read: 5G vs Fiber: Find Out Which Is Better?

Starlink is still in its beta phase and the consumers can expect a 50-150 Mbps connection with around 39ms latency. But when it comes to full capacity, 200 Mbps bandwidth speed may become the norm. However, Starlink can offer much higher speed than what current subscribers are getting.

In its full operation, Starlink promises to deliver internet of 1 Gbps backed by a ‘constellation’ of 30,000 low orbit satellites. As the signal comes from satellites, it will dodge physical obstructions in the ground and reach remote areas where fiber would struggle.

Starlink is all set to launch its satellite internet in India. It’s probable that many Nepalese also entertain its arrival in the country. A satellite internet would bring a monumental push to Nepal’s broadband drive. Despite dozens of ISPs, uneven terrain and hasn’t allowed for complete broadband coverage all over Nepal. But, satellite internet is not disrupted by any physical structures on the ground. This is why Starlink could compensate for Nepal’s geographical complexities and help connect remote areas with cities. Suppose Starlink gets its license from NTA and begins its satellite internet in Nepal. Let’s ponder upon what could it bring.

First, let’s begin with its cost and it is not too friendly with our pockets. The service is up for grabs for $99 in India which translates to above NRs. 11,000. This amount is not cost-friendly to most Nepali residential users. So, at this price range, we cannot fancy Starlink’s satellite internet finding mass approval. But there is a much significant role it can play.

Check out: Best Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Nepal

Satellite Internet For Remote Areas

Hotel industries, corporate, banks, education, and health sectors can have tremendous scope and productivity with it. These sectors can increase communication, serve more people and reap the benefits with the help of satellite broadband in rural areas. Starlink could help to unleash the potential of remote services in education, health, banking, etc. while the tourism sector can also see more benefits with remote connectivity.

A combination of cellular broadband, fixed-line broadband, and satellite internet could potentially realize the government’s ultimate Digital Nepal goal and bridge the digital divide.

But given Nepal’s already crowded ISP market, and purchasing habits of current internet consumers, Starlink may not see commercial viability. The question begs, will Elon Musk’s company wish to launch its service in Nepal? Only time will tell. For now, we will have to wait and see how Starlink will approach its global expansion strategies.

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