Bharti Airtel gets DTH licence; to invest Rs 150 cr in Phase I

Bharti Airtel on Sunday said it has got licence to start Direct-To-Home services in the country and announced an investment of Rs 150 crore in the first phase to launch nation-wide operations, a move that would bring in much required competition in the DTH segment.

"We have received the licence and plan to launch pan-India services by the first quarter of next financial year," head of DTH operations, Bharti Airtel, N Arjun said.

Company officials said Bharti would be investing Rs 150 crore in the initial phase on infrastructure for which its has chosen Tendberg Television, a subsidiary of Sweedish telecom equipment major Ericsson.

Bharti Telemedia, a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel, handling DTH operations, will use a range of Tandberg Television's solutions including the iSIS 8000 IP head-end and MPEG-4 AVC standard definition encoders, Arjun said.

The system is one of the first and finest satellite DTH platforms in the world enabling increasing transponder capacity and potentially doubling the amount of available channels, he said. The DTH services will be launched nationally across India and Bharti is setting up a state-of-the-art infrastructure near Gurgaon (Haryana) for the purpose of uplinking and broadcast.

By using the latest MPEG-4AVC video compression, and IP technologies, Bharti can cost-effectively deliver more channels in less bandwidth, while still maintaining high quality pictures, officials said.

Asked about the satellite capacity, Arjun said Bharti Telemedia has acquired transponders from the recently launched 4CR Insat early this month which is likely to become operational by month end.

Zee group's Dish TV, Tatas' Tata Sky and Prasar Bharati's DD Direct are the three operational DTH players in the country having a total subscriber base of over 5 million. Sun Direct and Reliance's DTH venture Reliance Bluemagic are expected to hit the market by the end of the current year or in early 2008.

According to reports, Videocon had also applied for DTH licence. Dish TV had recently announced an investment of Rs 800 crore in the next three years to have a strong foothold in the competitive DTH space. It has already invested Rs 800 crore since the company's entry three years back.

Dish TV, which currently has 2.25 million subscribers, is targeting a user base of 16-17 million by 2015. Tata Sky, which has one million subscribers, will invest Rs 2,000 crore in the medium term to boost value-added services.

The company is aiming for eight million subscribers by 2012, which would mean a more than 50 per cent market share in the pay segment on current reckoning. According to market analyst Media Partners Asia, the penetration of pay TV, which includes CAS (conditional access system) and DTH, was estimated to be 46 per cent in March, and is expected to increase to 90 per cent by 2015.

Kotak Institutional Equities estimates the DTH subscriber base to increase to 15 million by 2012.