India plans satellite radio

New Delhi, April 1 | Updated: Apr 2 2005, 05:30am hrs
The only satellite radio platform present in India, WorldSpace, may soon face competition. The department of space (DoS) is exploring the possibility of setting up a multi-media satellite platform, that would include satellite radio, video and data channels, industry sources indicated. Even as officials at Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and WorldSpace confirmed the development, a DoS representative denied any knowledge of the issue.

Trai had issued a consultation paper on satellite radio recently. Its learnt that the department of space was actively involved in the process of consultation. According to a source, the DoS is exploring multiple opportunities, and a satellite multi-media platform is one of them.

Besides the Washington DC-headquartered WorldSpace, there are only two other satellite radio platforms in the worldXM and Sirius. Both XM and Sirius are based in the US, but are now planning to expand to other markets like Canada. WorldSpace, which has two satellites, caters to audiences in Asian and African markets.

The WorldSpace service was launched in India in 2000 and was a free-to-air service till recently.

Now, for a basic package of 30 radio channels comprising music, news, and regional channels, a subscriber in India pays Rs 1,200 per annum. In addition, some premium channels are available at an extra cost.

So far, WorldSpace has sold around 80,000 receivers in India made by electronics majors BPL, Panasonic, JVC and others. After a weak start in India, WorldSpace recently initiated marketing efforts and introduced lower priced receivers, even below Rs 3,000.

Currently, there are no regulatory norms for satellite radio in India. But, once the Trai gives its recommendation to the government on satellite radio, a regulatory framework is likely to be put in place for satellite radio platforms like WorldSpace.

XM has 2.5 million subscribers and Sirius caters to around 700,000 people in the US. According to a JP Morgan study, by 2010, satellite radio will have 35 million subscribers in the US alone. An estimate suggests that WorldSpace is targeting 1.55 lakh subscribers by the end of 2005 in India. But it may soon have to fight for this target.