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DTH operators face transponder shortage

ISRO blocking access to foreign satellite operators

A shortage of Ku-band transponder capacity is looming large on the horizon for direct-to-home service providers. With the number of TV channels going up, and many standard definition channels getting converted into HD, DTH players have to juggle with regional and national channels to retain their subscriber base.

As of now, there are over 800 satellite channels in India. Recently, the Government mandated cable operators to raise their head-end capacity to accommodate 500 channels. But, DTH operators have capacity to take on hardly 350 channels. This prevents them from carrying many regional channels, which is important to retain their subscriber base, particularly in rural markets.

At present, DTH players have anywhere between 12 and15 transponders each (except Dish TV, which acquired six transponders a year-and-a-half ago to take its total to 18). While the best of compression technology can squeeze in 25 channels to a transponder, service providers who use MPEG 3 (compression format) can get far less.

As of now, DTH players need at least 10 transponders additionally each to accommodate the spate of new channels, says Mr Harit Nagpal, President, DTH Operators Association of India. Besides, to take on one HD channel, it would require a bandwidth of three standard definition channels, he says.

But, these players cannot have capacities on two different satellites, as dish alignment would be a problem.

According to Mr Nagpal, ISRO does not have the transponder capacity to lend, and besides does not allow DTH players to hire capacities from foreign satellite operators "who are ready to offer required capacity, even with back-up facility".

Though DTH players placed their request for additional transponder capacity with ISRO, "there is no sign of any development on this count". The policy document says 'while operations from Indian soil may be allowed with both Indian and foreign satellites, proposals envisaging use of Indian satellites will be accorded preferential treatment'. "When it nowhere says it is mandatory to hire capacity from Indian satellites, why are we not allowed to hire from foreign operators," asks Mr Nagpal.

From the Hindu Business Line

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