Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), India’s biggest phone firm, will launch interactive television services using internet technology in Pune and Bangalore this month.
This will be followed by Kolkata, early in April, after a two-year search for franchisees who will roll out the service.
As the latest entrant into so-called IPTV, short for internet protocol television, BSNL joins other telecom companies such as Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), the phone service provider in Mumbai and Delhi, Bharti Airtel, India’s biggest mobile phone services firm, and Reliance Communications, run by billionaire Anil Ambani.
MTNL already provides the service, while Bharti intends to do so in March and Reliance later this year.
BSNL’s IPTV service could be extended to another six cities in the coming months. “Pune and Bangalore are being launched this month itself,” said K. Ramchand, chief general manager of BSNL’s Pune-based IT solutions division.
The nationwide operator had first sought franchisees in 71 cities for its IPTV service early in 2005 but its terms were seen as unattractive. BSNL had insisted on at least 10% of revenues in return for access to the customers’ homes through its copper phone cables.
It expects to roll out services in most of the 71 cities by the year-end, a BSNL executive, who requested anonymity, said
However, BSNL later decided to settle for the best-available offers after finding few takers for its tender, under which the franchisees have to set up the broadcast infrastructure. This includes servers and set-top boxes.
The franchisees who will roll out services are India Online Ltd in Bangalore, Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation in Pune, and Time Broadband in Kolkata.
Besides television programmes, the BSNL IPTV will provide videos, movies on demand and gaming. .
Analysts says BSNL and other telecommunication companies are increasingly looking at the IPTV service as a hedge against subscriber erosion rather than as a source of revenue.
“Return on investment in services like IPTV takes between seven to 15 years. Operators cannot view this as a source of revenue, only as something that prevents further haemorrhage of their voice and broadband revenues,” says Rajeev Tankha, a director for telecom support applications at business software vendor Oracle.