Aug 29, 2008

Business - Bharti Airtel plans simultaneous rollout of IPTV,DTH

Bharti Airtel is looking at simultaneous rollout of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and direct-to-home (DTH) services following the Cabinet approval on downlinking norms for IPTV last week. Expected to be launched before this year-end, the two services will have differential pricing, with DTH targeted at the mass market and IPTV for broadband (high-speed internet) users.IPTV refers to TV delivered through broadband. While Bharti was ready with the launch plan for IPTV long back, it was awaiting policy clarity on downlinking norms. The government has now given the go-ahead to broadcasters to share their channels with IPTV providers also. Earlier, only cable and DTH players were allowed to do so. “We are now putting our launch (for IPTV) together. Right now, we are examining different options internally. Both the launches could be simultaneous or we could have them in phases. What is certain is that IPTV will be first launched in Delhi while DTH will be rolled out on a much larger scale,” Bharti Airtel president for Telemedia services Atul Bindal told ET. Telemedia is Airtel’s business division that provides broadband and fixedline services to over 2.5 million customers in 95 cities. “Over the next few weeks, we will firm up our plans. IPTV will be an integral part of Airtel’s media business because DTH allows us to go wide and IPTV allows us to go deep in 6-8 top cities,” he said. On the pricing, Mr Bindal said: “IPTV sits on top of broadband. It gives me an opportunity to cross-sell and deepen my relationship with existing customers using local loop or broadband or both. My pricing for IPTV will be triple play (voice, data and video). For DTH, we’ll explore single play, double play as well as triple play and introduce it in around 5,000 towns and villages.” DTH services are currently being offered by TataSky, Dish TV, Sun Direct and Reliance Communications’ Big TV. Asked about profitability, as none of the DTH players is currently making money, Mr Bindal said: “We don’t believe new businesses are a drag, if chosen correctly. We are uniquely positioned to leverage the existing technological knowhow and are exploring ways and means for cross-leveraging our relationship with Airtel customers.” Globally, IPTV is considered a niche segment as broadband access is not uniform. Industry estimates suggest that India will have around a million IPTV users by 2011 and for DTH, the number would be over 23 million. For IPTV, Airtel has partnered with Cisco Systems. In Delhi, networking services provider UTStarcom is working with Airtel with its IPTV solutions.

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