Home >Industry >Airtel, Reliance take IPTV battle to MTNL

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, the only telecom company in India to have started an Internet-based television service called IPTV, may have been slow in rolling out the service, and build a customer-base of some size, but a private rival slated to start a similar offering next month will find the going tough, analysts predict.

MTNL, which offers services in Mumbai and Delhi, has just 1,500 subscribers for its IPTV service, four months after its launch. Bharti Airtel, the nation’s largest private phone services company,plans to start its IPTV service next month, while the second-ranked Reliance Communications expects to ready a similar offering in the second half of this year. Frost & Sullivan’s senior research analyst, Aravind Venkatesh, predicts India will have 4 lakh IPTV customers by 2010, when the user base in Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, will rise to 11.3 million from the current 1.7 million.

The MTNL IPTV offering is increasing the number of channels on its service to 72 from 22 in Delhi next week, after increasing the number to 100 in Mumbai recently. “We have been constrained by the availability of content, with the TV channels showing reluctance to give their feeds to us," says MTNL’s chairman and managing director R.S.P. Sinha. “We haven’t started full scale marketing of the product as we had only 22 channels."

Broadcasters are concerned that IPTV subscribers will record and re-distribute their content, MTNL IPTV implementation partner Aksh Broadband said. “Negotiations have been going on with the broadcasters for some time now...Besides the Star Group, we expect Sony and Zee to join us this week," Kailash Chowdhary, Aksh’s managing director, said.

Among the four operators conducting IPTV trials in the country for more than a year,MTNL was the first off the block, helped by its extensive landline network—four million customers—in Mumbai and Delhi. Bharti, which has fewer than 6,00,000 wireline subscribers in the NCR, said its trials at 1,000 homes in Gurgaon have been successful.

Analysts, however, say Bharti Airtel may find it expensive to roll out an IPTV service because its fixed-line phone network is not as widespread as MTNL’s. For MTNL, the question boils down to having to set up the broadcast infrastructure, such as servers, testing the network and installing set-top boxes in the homes of the consumers.

“Private players will have to go through an entire cycle of laying the wires to subscribers’ houses before they can achieve the scales required to run such services profitably," says Romal Shetty, director for telecom at consultant KPMG India.

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