State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) on Wednesday launched satellite phone service through INMARSAT to cater to the communication need of those areas where no networks are present.
The services will initially be offered to government agencies and later extended to citizens in a phased manner.
Agencies handling disasters, state police, railways, Border Security Force and other government agencies will be given the phones in the first phase, telecom minister Manoj Sinha said at the service launch.
"Later people while travelling in flight and on ships will be able to use it," he added.
"We are starting satellite mobile service today with voice and SMS," BSNL chairman and managing director Anupam Shrivastava said.
The service will cover areas where no networks are present and be provided by INMARSAT which has 14 satellites.
At present, Tata Telecommunications provide satellite phones in India on a licence inherited from its acquisition of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) (now Tata Communications Ltd).
"The services of TCL will be phased out by June 30, 2017," Shrivastava said.
There are 1,532 authorised satellite phone connections that can operate within the country and a majority of them are used by security forces. TCL has also issued 4,143 permits to maritime community for use of such phones at ships.
"All the connections will be transferred to BSNL. The call rates will be determined by BSNL. It should be in the range of Rs30-35 per minute," INMARSAT India managing director Gautam Sharma said.
Satellite phones, however, pose security concerns, especially those satellite phones used by paramilitary forces that are supplied by foreign operators.
Also, a foreign operator who has provided these terminals to security agencies did not carry any valid licence in the country.
Defence forces did not opt for satellite phones from the foreign operators because of security and espionage concerns.
Telecom regulator TRAI has also pointed to the possibility of communication through such phones being monitored by foreign agencies as their gateways are located outside India.
Lot of CEOs of multinational companies need to be connected round the clock. The new services will be provided through a miniature handset and people will not need to carry large equipment in bag at their back.
India had set up one gateway required for satellite phone service in Pune under VSNL. Security agencies have been demanding for a long time for establishment of a new gateway in the country which can support new generation handsets for land mobile connections.
International Mobile Satellite Organization (INMARSAT) was set up under aegis of United Nations in 1979 and India was one of the founding members.