Sanjay Bhargava, who had worked with Elon Musk as part of a team that had founded electronic payment firm, PayPal, will now head the tech billionaire entrepreneur’s Starlink satellite broadband venture in India.
Bhargava joins SpaceX as Starlink’s country director (India), effective October 1, 2021, even as the Musk-led US aerospace company gears up to compete with Bharti group-backed OneWeb and others and launch fast satellite broadband services in India next year.
“Super excited to join SpaceX effective Oct 1, 2021, as Starlink Country Director India…had worked with @elonmusk on the PayPal founding team,” Bhargava said in a Linkedin post on Wednesday. He further added in the post that Starlink and he “shared a common passion for supporting a transformed India, starting with rural India”.
In his previous role, Bhargava had co-founded investment advisory firm, Bharosa Club and was its chairman.
Bhargava assumes the reins at Starlink’s India operation at a time when the likes of Bharti-backed OneWeb, SpaceX, Jeff Bezos-founded Amazon and the Tata-Telesat combine are readying to enter India’s relatively nascent fast broadband-from-space segment, leveraging their respective low–earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.
Industry experts see India as a key emerging satellite internet market with an almost $1 billion annual revenue opportunity. This, since almost 75% of rural India does not have access to broadband as many locations are still without cellular or fibre connectivity. Accordingly, LEO satellite systems are being seen as a viable alternative, though it is costly at present.
SpaceX has been accepting pre-orders for the beta version of its Starlink satellite internet service in India for a fully refundable deposit of $99 (above Rs 7,000). According to its website, the company’s satellite broadband services are being targeted in India in 2022, although availability, it says, is subject to regulatory approvals, and would be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Back in July, a top SpaceX executive at a meeting with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had said the US company planned to partner with Indian companies to locally manufacture satellite communications equipment, including antenna systems and user terminal devices. He had added that SpaceX always looks for opportunities to maximize the efficiency of its global supply chain, and is keen to work with its partners in India to recognize those opportunities.
Bhargava also takes charge of Starlink’s India operation at a time when the space sector is hotting up, with a fierce fight underway between satellite players and telcos over auctioning of valuable mmWave satellite spectrum in the 28 GHz band. Satellite companies have strongly discouraged the Indian government from auctioning mmWave satellite spectrum in the 28 GHz band for 5G services, saying such a move would impact their data download speeds and geographical reach in India.
Telcos, on their part, have repeatedly told DoT to make these airwaves available via auction, saying their unavailability would jolt India’s 5G business case as deployment costs would surge and make the ultra-fast wireless broadband service unaffordable in the country.