Business Standard / New Delhi March 14, 2007
The successful launch of the Insat-4B communication satellite from Kourou in French Guyana on Monday morning marks a further expansion of India’s domestic communication satellite network, now by far the largest in the Asia-Pacific region. This second satellite in the Insat-4 series joins a fleet of nine other Indian communication spacecraft, including Kalpana-1, Gsat-2, Edusat and Insat-4A, which together have 175 transponders in C band and extended C and Ku bands. Built gradually over the past 24 years, this dynamic network has revolutionised the information and communication sectors besides catering, if only partly, for the needs of meteorology, education, health, agriculture and business. With the addition of 24 more transponders (12 in Ku band and 12 in C band) through Insat-4B, almost akin to Insat-4A, the total number of transponders swells to 199. The new satellite will give a boost to direct-to-home television broadcasting through Ku band transponders and other fields like TV, radio and telecommunication through C band transponders.

All this is commendable, but the available transponder capacity is still short of the requirement, which, based on the existing demand, is reckoned at about 300 transponders. From that viewpoint, the loss of the Insat-4C satellite in July during the crash of the GSLV launch vehicle is still hurting. That would have added 12 more Ku band transponders to the available fleet. That mishap prevented several DTH operators, including Doordarshan’s (DD’s) Direct Plus, Dish TV and Tata Sky, from expanding their reach. Besides, it put on hold the proposed launch of similar services by some new players as well. The launch of Insat-4B may provide only cold comfort to several of these potential customers as the entire capacity of this satellite has already been committed, the biggest gainers being Sun DTH, which gets seven of the 12 DTH transponders, and DD Direct, which gets the remaining five DTH transponders. The C band capacity, too, has been allotted for services like radio, TV and telecommunications. The new seekers will, therefore, have to wait for some more time, till at least the launch of Insat-4CR later this year as a replacement of the ill-fated Insat-4C. However, since Doordarshan is slated to switch over its DTH DD Direct service from the American-owned NSS-6 satellite to Insat-4B by early May, the transponder space vacated by it may become available to new players. Significantly, this switchover is projected to help the Prasar Bharati save around $5 million, though it will require it to rotate its dish antennas from the existing 95 degrees to 93.5 degrees. It is not yet clear whether this rotation would necessitate re-programming of set-top boxes.

The operation of the Insat-4B should help Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), earn Rs 4.5 crore per transponder per year during the 12-year life of the new satellite. This should encourage ISRO to focus more on bridging the gap between the demand for and supply of transponder capacity; a ready market is waiting to be tapped.