Airtel is facing up against Elon Musk
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have been a part of the space race for a while. now, Sunil Mittal also wants to go to space. Musk and Bezos may have other ambitions, but what all three have in common is broadband. and that too through space. while Jio and scientists in Japan are pouring money into fibre optics, these three are looking to the heavens. why?
currently, India has 600 million internet users but about 1.3 billion people aren’t connected. this is a very large untapped market. a market that is shown to have a love for consuming data. this is why Sunil Mittal’s OneWeb, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Project Kuiper all want to be part of India’s satcom market. the global satcom market is expected to be valued at $46.5 billion by 2028, from a projected $25.33 billion in 2021. and this is just the start.
closer to home, the finance minister also liberalised India’s space activities, allowing FDI into the sector. this has created a policy highway for companies to enter the country in search of customers.
this answer lies not just in the size of the market but also in the state of telecom in India. currently, the entire telecom industry is creaking under debt. Airtel is being pulled in two directions. it needs to keep in touch with Jio when it comes to total subscribers and increase average revenue per user.
if Airtel was to go deeper into the country in search for the next set of users, it will have to build infrastructure, which will need capital expense. this can either come through taking on more debt or making more revenue - both of them seemingly impossible ideas for now. so, Sunil Mittal has found a third option - focus on another business. OneWeb, which is a joint venture between the government of the UK and Sunil Mittal is a step in getting into a business with no Indian players. OneWeb will leverage all the learnings of Airtel and acquire new customers and will be able to grow faster because of its homegrown status.
while for Mittal, it is a way to find another sustainable business, for customers the option of three well-funded players could mean another wave of cheap internet.