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DTH operators upset over transponder scarcity

Lack of satellite capacity impacting the potential take-up of HD services

With well over 40 million subscribers, India's DTH market is big - but it is also crowded. At the start of the last decade, there was only DishTV; subsequently Tata Sky, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Sun TV and Videocon TV hit the scene.

Tata Sky launched services in 2006 and has amassed over 10.5 million connections. Yigit Riza, CTO, Tata Sky, talks about a lack of available satellite capacity: "All of the DTH operators could do with double the capacity we have right now. DirecTV is apparently uplinking 3,000 channels today in a fairly homogenous market. Can you imagine the capacity that India will need going forward with its linguistic and cultural diversity? We use 12 transponders right now. We could double the number and that would still not meet our needs," he says.

DishTV, which has more than 13 million subscribers, uses 14 transponders in a mix of 36 MHz and 54 MHz, with a total bandwidth of around 616 MHz of capacity. Rajiv Khattar, president of projects at DishTV, says access to capacity has become a major issue.

"The recent study on satellite capacity was emphasizing an Open Sky policy as ISRO has not been able to keep pace on the availability of the transponders to DTH players. DishTV is of the opinion that in case this is not possible, then DTH operators be assured of faster allocation of the transponder space in a time-bound manner in case they are able to work out bandwidth availability with a satellite provider whose satellite has been coordinated with ISRO. It is to be appreciated that bandwidth at the right slot has a value for one operator, but may not for another operator on that slot," he says.

Shashi Arora, CEO, DTH/Media, Bharti Airtel, admits while the operator currently has enough capacity, gaining access to more capacity has become a "key focus" for the company.

"Additional capacity has to be developed to be able to enhance the current DTH industry channel capacity base of 300 with 200 more channels and create a level-playing field with the digital cable operators who have to mandatorily carry 500 channels," he says.

Sudhir Gosar, head of technical operations, Reliance Digital TV, says: "DTH has a dependence on Ku-band like nothing else. For us, our satellite [capacity] is a life and death situation. A lack of capacity could really impact us in the future; this is very worrying. With seven DTH players, there is sufficient competition, but there needs to be recognition of the importance of satellite, and that we are in a position to offer the best service to customers," he says.

The lack of satellite capacity is impacting the potential take-up of HD services and all operators are being impacted. DishTV, Airtel, BiGTV and Tata Sky offer just fewer than 60 HD channels all together, a relatively small amount when you consider the four operators have well over 30 million subscribers between them.

DishTV carries 20 full HD channels, and Khattar says the company plans to add another 10 to 12 this year. Tata Sky carries 13 HD channels although Riza admits the company "would like to carry 30," but can't due to lack of capacity. BiGTV has one transponder dedicated to HD services, and launched its HD PVR back in 2010. It now carries 8 to 10 HD channels and would like to triple this number over the next year.

"Today, we are [a] little behind the other DTH operators in terms of our HD services offering, but we have issues in terms of access to satellite capacity. We don't have available capacity. That situation will be eased by this time next year, when there will be a lot more transponders available. We will get an additional 12 transponders from Measat in the same slot," Gosar says. Likewise Airtel offers 15 HD channels, and Arora says he expects the market for HD to significantly increase over the coming years.

Based on story in

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