The conglomerate helmed by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, is moving to provide satellite broadband connectivity, muscling into a segment where billionaires Sunil Mittal’s OneWeb and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have ambitious plans.
Jio Platforms Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of listed Reliance Industries Ltd., entered into a joint venture with Luxembourg-based SES to “deliver the next generation scalable and affordable broadband services in India leveraging satellite technology,” according to an exchange filing Monday. Jio Platforms will own 51% in the newly-created Jio Space Technology Ltd., with SES holding the rest.
The joint venture “will use multi-orbit space networks,” combining geostationary and medium earth orbit satellite constellations that can deliver multi-gigabit internet capacity to companies, retail users as well as the back-end of wireless networks across India and the neighboring regions, according to the statement.
Satellite broadband was the only big missing link in Reliance’s massive telecom infrastructure including a deep optic fiber footprint across India, which enabled it to become the country’s largest mobile operator within a few years of its disruptive entry in 2016. While India is the world’s second-largest wireless market, it had only 622 million active internet users in 2020, according to Kantar consultancy, making it a key growth market.
Jio will be the anchor customer of the joint venture with a “multi-year capacity purchase agreement” at a total contract value of $100 million, it said in the statement.
A Reliance spokesperson didn’t immediately comment if Jio Space Technology will also consider low-Earth orbit, or LEO, satellites — a category that provides rapid data transmission, or lower latency, since they are closer to Earth.
Musk’s SpaceX is in the midst of a rapid expansion of Starlink, a constellation of LEO satellites that will eventually number more than 30,000 and provide high-speed internet coverage around the world.
Mittal, who rescued the satellite startup OneWeb from bankruptcy with the U.K. government, said in June the company will be offering global broadband services this year with its planned constellation of 648 satellites. It has also tied up with Hughes Network Systems LLC for satellite broadband services to India intensifying the competition.
SpaceX established a wholly-owned unit in India last year with plans to have 200,000 connections by December 2022. But it soon had a run-in with the Indian government in November which asked Starlink to return money it collected through pre-orders and advised consumers not to subscribe to its services as Starlink hadn’t received the license to offer satellite internet. –Bloomberg