BICMA to develop regulatory framework for satellite-based internet services

Among others, satellite based internet will help in reducing broadband tariffs and ensure affordability

Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) is currently in the act of developing a regulatory framework for satellite-based internet services.

According to the authority, satellite-based internet service is the use of satellites to provide internet connectivity to areas that are difficult to reach through terrestrial infrastructures and because of challenging terrains.

“These services can be crucial for remote and rural areas, where laying physical cables or building cell towers might not be feasible or cost-effective,” said an official from BICMA, adding that landlocked countries like Bhutan often face challenges in terms of terrestrial infrastructure development that impacts internet connectivity.

The official added that after establishing the regulatory framework their priority will be on attracting satellite internet service providers to invest in the service providing for the benefits of the public.

Further, the authority plans to encourage stakeholder’s involvement to take up the services in terms of infrastructure developments, partnership and collaborations with international satellites operators or companies among others.

In addition, BICMA will also monitor and evaluate the setup even after the establishment of the satellite based internet services. The official said that satellite internet has potential to offer benefits in terms of reaching unreached areas as it can provide coverage to remote areas which are difficult to reach through terrestrial networks.

“Being able to implement such services, it will definitely provide alternatives and choice to existing users, enable competitions in the market, help in reduction of broadband tariffs and ensure affordability amongst others,” the official added.

Meanwhile, BICMA shared that satellite-based internet services can provide improved connectivity and internet access to remote areas in the country where traditional infrastructure is difficult to deploy.

Satellite internet also have the potential to cover large geographic areas and can be particularly beneficial for communication, education, and emergency services while it is less vulnerable to physical infrastructure damage caused by natural disasters or human activities.

For instance, satellite internet can also lead to more consistent and reliable connectivity and is cost effective. “Setting up satellite internet requires less time and effort compared to building extensive terrestrial infrastructure like fibre optic networks,” he said.

With the introduction of this technology BICMA expects the competition in the market will be enhanced with different categories of services. Broadband internet users will also have more alternatives in availing services.

However, the official shared that satellite internet will typically have higher latency (signal delay) compared to terrestrial connections and there will be delay in the signal transmission. In addition, users will face insufficient bandwidth and reduced speeds if the user traffic is congested.

“Weather conditions, such as heavy rain or snow can also interfere with the satellite signal and reduce the quality of internet service,” the official said, adding that challenges such as security, data traffic privacy, and data localization are inevitable.

Meanwhile, BICMA shared that the services which will be provided through geo-stationary orbit satellites, medium and low earth orbits constellations has the potential to revolutionize broadband internet services penetration and coverage in the country.

“Given our geographical landscape where the installation of terrestrial network is a difficulty such technologies could potentially offer solutions to address our challenges,” he said.

The official added that with their global coverage capabilities, these satellite constellations have the potential to bring reliable and high-speed internet to remote and network-blind zones.

“In Bhutan TV communication services are also being provided through satellite through the Ku band frequency and advancements in satellite technology are continually improving the speed, latency and capacity of satellite internet networks,” he said.

Meanwhile, BICMA is not able to estimate the cost for establishment of such services as the cost will depend on the investor, their service delivery methodology and infrastructure needs. As for now, the introduction of such services in the country will depend on whether there are interested service providers to start the operations.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu