It was in mid-1992 that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched INSAT-2A, the first operational communication satellite to be designed and built within the country. Since then a dozen indigenous communication satellites have followed in rapid succession, including most recently INSAT-4B. The country's space-based communications capacity has soared and INSAT is today the largest domestic communication satellite system in the Asia-Pacific region. The space capacity has been used to carry telephone services and TV broadcasts to every nook and corner of this vast country as well as for business communication, distance education, and reaching advanced medical help to remote areas. India and China are the two developing countries that do not need to look abroad to buy their communication satellites. Indeed a tie-up between ISRO and the European satellite manufacturer EADS Astrium seeks to use the former's experience and cost advantage in skilled manpower to build satellites in India for foreign customers. The consortium has already won contracts to supply two communication satellites. What needs to be borne in mind is that across the world terrestrial fibre optic networks, which are able to offer vast amounts of bandwidth at lower cost, are often preferred to satellite communications for high-volume applications. In India, much of the telephone traffic along important trunk routes is already travelling on fibre optic cables.
However, as Vikram Sarabhai realised in the 1960s when he created a fledgling space programme, so large a country requires satellites to meet its manifold communication and broadcasting requirements. Today it is satellite-and-cable that takes a staggering array of international, national, and regional television channels for news as well as entertainment and live telecasts of cricket matches to close to 70 million homes. The growth of Direct-to-Home (DTH) television services is driving the demand for satellite capacity over India. Many of the transponders on both INSAT-4A and 4B have been leased for DTH services. No longer is ISRO restricted to providing capacity on its communication satellites to government departments. Indian companies wishing to hire satellite transponders to provide services in India are required to give preference to the INSAT system if capacity is available. Such a policy places considerable responsibility on ISRO to make sure that its communication satellites are on a par with the best in the world. It therefore needs to match its technical nous with an understanding of how the market for satellite communications will evolve and adapt accordingly.