Dec 5, 2008

Business - Isro to enhance capacity to meet DTH demand

With the country's top direct-to-home (DTH) players, including Dish TV and Tata Sky, planning to expand their channel portfolio, Indian Space Research Organsiation (Isro) has decided to increase its satellite transponder capacity in order to provide communication service to DTH players.

Isro will more than double its transponder capacity in the near future, said managing director of Antrix Corporation KR Sridhar Murthy. Antrix, the commercial arm of Isro, is an authorised government agency to offer all Indian and foreign space-related services to local players.

Talking to FE on the sidelines of Word Space Biz 2008, India's first international conference organised by Isro, Murthy said currently the Indian satellites have 211 transponders for communication purpose that include DTH service, telemedicine and tele-education. Of this, he said, 100 transponders are leased to DTH providers. "Another 300 transponders would be added in the next five years for various communication purposes, including DTH. It is to be noted that 50-60% of Antrix revenue comes from transponder service.

India's second largest DTH provider, Tata Sky, managing director and chief executive officer Vikram Kausik told FE, "The company is in talks with satellite providers and specialists to avail the satellite service further in order to expand the company's DTH capacity. We require a large number of transponders in order to transmit 1,000 channels and give our viewers a wide choice. We hope to achieve the target in the next 2-3 years."

The demand for new channels is growing very sharply in India, especially the regional markets are growing very fast. In order to have wider regional presence, we need to have more channels to offer. The country has 400 channels at present. The number is likely to double in the next 3-5 years. Hence, the DTH providers should have the capacity to accommodate these channels, he added.

Currently Tata Sky, which has 3-million subscribers, has hired all 12 Ku-Band transponders on INSAT 4A. The company will make some changes to expand its DTH platform to accommodate 200 channels against the current 167 channels with its current transponder capacity, Kausik said. "We will touch the 200-channel mark in a matter of weeks," he added.

On the other hand, the country's largest DTH provider with 4.8 million subscribersĂ‚—Zee's Dish TVĂ‚—also has huge expansion plans. It, however, is waiting for Antrix green signal for transponder rights.

Director (Corporate) of Zee Network Amitabh Kumar said the company's DTH arm has applied to Antrix to provide 10 transponders to help implement expansion plans. He said the company, which currently owns around 11 Ku-Band transponders on NSS-6 foreign satellite, plans to expand its DTH space to 400 channels from the current level of 200 channels. The additional transponders will also serve the company's other planned services like high-definition channels, movies-on-demand, which would require an additional investment of Rs 100 crore, he added. He said the company is confident of getting 10 more transponder by the mid 2009.

Other DTH providers, Sun Direct, Reliance Big TV and Airtel, are also in talks with Antrix for more transponders rights.

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