Bangalore: Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), the country’s space agency, will launch three satellites for direct-to-home (DTH) television broadcast in as many years to cater to growing demand from operators such as Dish TV India Ltd and new entrants such as Reliance Big TV Ltd.
India’s DTH market of around 10 million subscribers is dominated by state-run broadcaster Doordarshan, which offers signals free for users with receivers, followed by premium services of Dish TV, the South-based group SunTV Network Ltd and Tata Sky Ltd, a venture by Tata Sons Ltd and Star India.
G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of Isro, said, “24 transponders are required (for this service) now.” The three satellites, to be launched by the indigenous GSLV rockets, will have around 42 Ku-band transponders, some of which would be used for rural connectivity. Ku-band transponders are those used in DTH broadcast.
Isro has 36 transponders from both Indian and foreign satellites leased to existing service providers and new entrants such as Reliance Big TV, owned by the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, Videocon Ltd and Bharti Telemedia Ltd, a unit of India’s largest mobile firm Bharti Airtel Ltd.
Analysts say the entry of Reliance and Bharti, both aggressive in the consumer space, could accelerate growth in the DTH segment in India.
“What Reliance did when it entered the mobile business, you will see” in the DTH business now, said Lalitabh Shrivastawa, a researcher at Techno Shares and Stocks Ltd, a Mumbai brokerage. “Prices will drop and more people will switch to DTH.”
In a June 2007 report, the brokerage predicted that India’s DTH industry would grow 40% a year over 10 years.
Dish TV, India’s first private DTH broadcaster, said the country may require an additional 72 transponders for DTH and TV broadcast by 2015.
“There is a need to have more dedicated satellites because 350-400 channels (have) to be carried (by each operator),” said Jawahar Goel, managing director of Dish TV, a unit of Zee Group. Dish TV uses 15 C-band and 11 Ku-band transponders on Indian satellites to beam signals to 3.2 million users and aims to reach five million subscribers by March.
Public broadcaster Doordarshan estimates it needs 10-15 transponders in two years as it plans to increase four times the channels it delivers to its existing subscribers. Doordarshan currently beams 50 channels on its free-to-air or DTH service without encryption to its users, estimated to be around five million.
Each transponder in a DTH satellite can beam 10-12 channels, but new satellites with Mpeg-4 technology, that compresses signals, can carry 15-16 channels. The new technology is being used by Bharti and Reliance in their ventures.
“There is huge demand for DTH across India. Growth depends on (availability of) transponders,” said a Doordarshan executive, who did not wish to be named. The state broadcaster uses five transponders on India’s Insat-4 B communication satellite.
Reliance declined comment, while executives of Videocon and Bharti Telemedia could not be reached.