Elon Musk’s SpaceX-owned Starlink has applied to operate in Pakistan. However, a number of stakeholders, including the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the nation’s telecom regulatory body, have expressed concerns about its plan.
The technical plan that Starlink submitted is currently being evaluated by relevant stakeholders, as stated in official documents from the PTA and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication.
Long Distance and International (LD1) and Local Loop (LL) licensees of PTA are permitted to provide satellite-based telecommunication services in their respective licensed regions in accordance with existing regulatory provisions.
On the 24th of February 2022, Starlink Internet Services Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd. (Starlink), which is owned by Starlink Holdings Netherlands BV, submitted an application for an LDI license for Pakistan along with 14 x LL licenses for each of Pakistan’s telecom regions on the 29th of April 2022.
The technical and business plan for Starlink is being examined by the Pakistani government in consultation with all stakeholders, including SUPARCO, LEAs, PTA, and FAB. This is because a number of international and regional nations are being cautious when deciding whether or not to allow Starlink because of their respective satellite regimes and security concerns.
The documents also revealed that the Law Enforcement Agency is looking into Starlink’s security clearance and the technical vulnerabilities associated with it, particularly its data hosting outside of the country and the use of laser technology from satellite to satellite without Earth Gateways. After receiving approval from all stakeholders, the PTA will take further action, either by issuing a license or not.
The Starlink case is being analyzed from a technical point of view in a manner that is non-exclusive, non-interference, and non-protection. All stakeholders were informed.
To grant Starlink (SpaceX) permission to operate in Pakistan, Starlink Internet Services Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd approached the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). In Pakistan, conventional satellites are in Geo Stationary Orbit (GSO) at an altitude of 36000 kilometers. However, Starlink differs technically from GSO in that it operates in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 250 to 500 kilometers, providing connectivity with low latency.
SpaceX and Starlink satellites can simultaneously communicate with a large number of Ground Stations, and ground stations can connect to a large number of Starlink satellites. Laser technology also provides connectivity from satellite to satellite, allowing it to effectively expand its reach across all regions.
Internet bandwidth is typically accessed from within the country from ground stations, where services are extended via Starlink. As a result, optical fiber cable bandwidth is uplinked and downlinked through space stations and internet services are provided to the country’s end user.
On Monday, PTA officials also provided an update on the Starlink issue to the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication, which met under Senator Kauda Babar’s leadership. Officials stated that security concerns prevented further development of this technology, which was still in its infancy. According to Senator Afnanullah Khan, it was inappropriate to forego it solely due to security concerns because it was an excellent technology for providing internet services in remote areas.
Senator Kauda Babar, Chairman of the Committee, established a subcommittee to resolve the issue and bring it to a logical conclusion. In order to solve the problems, the Sub-committee will meet with all of the stakeholders.
According to the officials, SpaceX’s Starlink uses a beta version that is not fully secured at the moment. The technology was reportedly used in a drone attack in Ukraine, and it was also reported in Afghanistan, according to the committee. A sub-committee was set up by the committee to investigate the issue and provide a report to it.