SpaceX Rural Development Project in India

Starlink will play an important role in catalyzing rural development in India.
Sanjay Bhargava, Starlink National Director for India at SpaceX (The source)

SpaceX Starlink is evolving rapidly in India. Last April, they announced they would be offering service in 2022 and started accepting pre-orders. In July, SpaceX committed to manufacturing antenna systems and terminals in India, and in late September Sanjay Bhargava, who had worked with Elon Musk at Paypal, was selected to lead Starlink in India. Over the past two weeks, they have created a wholly owned subsidiary that will apply for licenses, seek Indian distribution partners and attempt to sell 200,000 units – 80% in rural districts – in 2022.

It’s an impressive ramp-up, but something else caught my eye: a project committed to catalyze rural development in India, an effort led by Bhargava’s wife, Anita Kapur Bhargava, who described the project in a short presentation (video and PDF). The project will begin with the installation of Starlink terminals in 20 schools in Delhi and 80 terminals in a rural district near Delhi. (India comprises 752 districts with an average population of 164 million). In the second phase of the project, Bhargava and the National Institution for Transformation of India will select 12 rural districts in North, South, West and East India as’ laboratories to establish scalable solutions globally ”and potential solution providers in these districts are encouraged to apply for the mentorship. She did not specify what types of support a lab district would receive, but one option could be to establish an incubator or co-working space in each. The “stretch goal” of the project is to install 200,000 terminals, 160,000 in rural communities, by December 2022.

The objectives of the project are to increase the district’s GDP, create jobs for all and advance the district towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Bhargava described a four-dimensional project framework during the presentation and gave examples of its application in 8 areas. Consider one of these application areas, school broadband, to illustrate its framework.

Broadband in Every School – Broadband for education is a necessity, not an option. Source: Starlink Satellite Communications Pvt LTD – Catalyzing Rural Development, NOV 1, 2021

High quality broadband is the development catalyst in this example and solution providers will be required to install and maintain equipment and develop programs, applications and content. Nudge refers to a change in behavior among politicians and others – in this example, school administrators and those responsible for certification and hiring standards. the Metro (real measurable results and limited in time) are jobs for 80% at 16 years and higher education for 20% at 18 years. (Note the emphasis on jobs and vocational training).

Note that Starlink and OneWeb are listed as catalysts. OneWeb has worked with partners since its inception and Sanjay Bhargava notes that “To make a single district 100% broadband, we need a large amount of capital and the collaboration of all top providers. debit. It is not a competition.”

Neither Starlink nor OneWeb will have sufficient capacity to meet all the demand for LEO broadband satellites in India. In addition, OneWeb and other upcoming LEO satellite ISPs, Telesat and Amazon, have different orbital characteristics and design strengths. For example, Telesat could have an advantage by focusing bandwidth on high demand locations such as airports, and Amazon’s integrated ground services and orbital tilt can give it an advantage with corporate customers. Starlink appears to focus on individual consumers and it has been reported that they can offer grants in India. All LEO operators, including the Chinese network Guowang SatNet, have an existential motivation to collaborate in collision prevention.

Although there is room for several satellite service providers, OneWeb and Starlink India have something in common: both are run by Indians who are well aware of the role of the Internet in the pursuit of development goals. lasting United Nations and the history of India’s efforts to close the digital divide.

Development projects are usually funded by governments or non-governmental organizations and involve a lengthy application and evaluation process. In contrast, the first phase of this project was funded by SpaceX as soon as they formed an Indian subsidiary and hired Sanjay Bhargava. This small example of private funding for a development project – which will eventually pay off – is reminiscent of SpaceX’s efforts to secure a contract to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Hopefully this is not the last.

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