Tesla's Elon Musk. Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Elon Musk’s proposed satellite-based internet service Starlink has run into rough weather in India. The Indian Telecom Department has asked Starlink to comply with the regulatory framework for offering satellite-based communication services, and refrain from booking or rendering satellite internet services in India “with immediate effect.”

Offering satellite-based services in India requires a license from the government.

The company aims to start broadband service in India from December 2022 and had started accepting pre-orders for the beta version for a fully refundable deposit of 7,400 rupees (US$99). The customers also need to pay $499 for their wi-fi router.

The department also advised the public not to buy Starlink internet as it is not a licensee. “It is hereby informed to the public at large that the said company has not obtained any license/authorization for rendering satellite-based internet services that are being booked on their website,” it said.

Given that Starlink is not a licensee, “the public is advised not to subscribe to Starlink services being advertised,” it added.

In a statement, the department noted that Starlink had started pre-selling/booking of the satellite-based Starlink Internet Services in India. The same is also evident from the website of Starlink where satellite-based internet services can be booked by users in Indian territory.

It was made clear that Starlink should “get a license before offering Satellite-based services.”

Earlier this month, Starlink Country Director for India Sanjay Bhargava claimed on a social media post that the pre-order from India has crossed 5,000 and the company was keen to work in rural areas to provide broadband services. By the time it commences services in India next year, it aims to have 200,000 active terminals, of which 160,000 would be in rural districts.

A growing number of companies are launching small satellites to provide broadband internet services, with a particular focus on remote areas that terrestrial internet infrastructure struggles to reach.

In India, it will be a direct competitor with the Bharti Group-backed OneWeb. Last month the Bharti Group entered into an arrangement with the Indian Space Research Organization’s commercial arm NewSpace India Limited to launch its satellite in India from 2022. It plans to start services in India in the second half of 2022.

It will also compete with Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea that offer terrestrial broadband services.