New Delhi: The ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B) has set the ball rolling for the entry of mobile television broadcast services by asking the country’s telecom regulator to come up with a framework of rules for the introduction of the service. Once the rules are framed and services introduced, consumers will be able to watch TV channels on their mobile phones and portable media players for a nominal monthly rental.
The opening up of the terrestrial video broadcasting sector, currently limited to the state-owned Doordarshan, will enable cable companies, broadcasters, mobile operators and others, to transmit video signals that can be accessed by users with mobile phones enabled for such reception. The move has come at a time when technology has resulted in a record number of consumers using handheld devices with colour displays, such as mobile phones.
New and sophisticated broadcasting systems and standards, such as the Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld or DVB-H and Digital Multimedia Broadcast or DMB, that allow users to receive the signals on specially designed phones and other devices within a radius of around 30km from the transmitting tower have also evolved, making them cheaper than existing, streaming-based services. They also require far less spectrum as the same video broadcast can be accessed by any number of subscribers within the coverage zone, unlike the current GPRS (short for general packet radio service, a GSM-based technology that supports faster data speeds) and CDMA systems that require seperate video streams for individual users.
“We have received a reference from the ministry of information and broadcasting to give our views on the matter,” Nripendra Misra, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), confirmed to Mint. The regulator will do this within the next three months.
Trai will have to put up the policy framework from scratch as broadcasting from ground-based towers was opened up to private players only in 2000, when FM radio broadcasting was opened up to private players. However, unlike FM, where broadcasters bid for the spectrum directly and offer a single channel, mobile video broadcasting is likely to see the entry of platform operators such as cable and satellite-based direct-to-home (DTH) television delivery companies as between 30 to 50 channels can be offered using a single allotment of spectrum.
“We think opening up the wireless broadcast sector for mobile is a step in the right direction,” said Ashok Mansukhani, president of the Multi-System Operator Alliance and also the president of Hinduja TMT Ltd, the owner of InCable network. “We welcome the move as we have constantly been demanding that we should be allowed to reach out to our consumers using the latest technology available,” added Mansukhani, whose association has been demanding the setting up of a universal licence of content services on the lines of the universal access service licence for telecom companies.
Though the market size of broadcast-enabled devices in India is likely to reach millions next year as handset manufacturers, such as Nokia Oyj, bundle TV-broadcast technology with most of their phones from next year, Trai is likely to come up against a lot of thorny issues as it frames its recommendations.
“The most important thing for the regulator to keep in mind is to allow maximum scope for the play of market-forces,” said Arpita Agrawal, telecom analyst with consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, who is in favour of opening up the platform to all the interested companies on the basis of auctions. “Factors such as which spectrum band to choose and how much spectrum to give to each player, etc. will have to be taken in as technology-neutral a way as possible,” she suggested.
Besides finding the suitable wireless spectrum band for the service, launched in other countries in the 700 megahertz range, Trai will also lay down various other criteria such as the size and extent of each licence area, the number of players in each such area, and the taxes and levies to be imposed on such services. Trai will also have to frame rules on the foreign investment allowed in the sector, as it currently varies from 20% in DTH firms to 49% in cable-based distribution companies.