More In Race: Now Telecom Cos Compete With Cablewallahs

New Delhi: | Updated: Nov 17 2003, 05:30am hrs
Year 2003: Broadband subscriber count in India is barely 50,000. Projection for end of 2005: At least 2 million subscribers, wholl get much more than plain-vanilla Internet on broadband. Convergence, in the true sense of the word, is what is being promised to themInternet, time-shifted TV, pay-per-view movie, Wi-fi, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), gaming and music-on-demand etc. The 2-million subscriber base is just what UTStarcom is targeting, according to country manager and director (South Asia operations) Ruchir Godura.

US-headquartered UTStarcom is a global provider of an integrated suite of future-ready network solutions that support seamless migration from wireline to wireless, from narrowband to broadband, and from circuit-switched to packet-based networks. For its triple-play service (voice, video and high-speed Internet), the company is in talks with telecom operators in India, including Reliance, MTNL and BSNL. Once it ties up with a telecom operator, always-on Internet along with live and time-shifted television, movies on demand and Wi-Fi could all be offered through broadband on your copper telephone line. With that, you could surf the Net, while your mom watches her favourite soap, using the same service and phone line.

A subscriber could take as many services he/she wants to and pay accordingly. Depending on the services you subscribe to, you pay anything between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,800 per month. But, ultimately, the pricing will depend on what the telecom operator decides. Plus, theres a one-time payment for the set-top box at around Rs 5,000. The box may, however, be available on rent too, just like your neighbourhood cablewallah is ready to offer for conditional access system (CAS), cable TV distribution system.

Realistically speaking, by the end of this year, pilot launch of the triple-play service is expected, but not in India yet. Japan and Mexico would see the pilot end of the year. Sometime middle of the next year is what UTStarcom is targeting for India launch of the service. As for the expenditure that an operator has to incur for the project, it is estimated to be around $100 to 250 per customer.

Meanwhile, admits Mr Godura, that content would be the main driver for this service to be a success. The telecom company which partners UTStarcom for this venture would need to tie up with content-providers (broadcasters). The two would then work out a revenue-sharing arrangement. The number of broadcasters joining the triple-play platform would actually determine the success of the venture.

Even as picture quality, as projected by UTStarcom, would be excellent, and value-added services would be miles ahead of what your cablewallah could probably ever dream of, the relevance of content cannot be undermined. Although the capacity that Mr Godura is talking about is that of 100 TV channels, their availability would determine the final fare. Storage of hours and hours of TV programmes, by the way, is the big plus of triple play. All that, without you actually taping the programmes. Everything is stored in the network by the operator for around 10 days, and the viewer can choose from the screen-menu and watch whatever he wants to.

So, does that mean that cable TV is on its way out No, not really. At least, not in India, so soon. It would not replace cable TV. It would be yet another offering, believes Mr Godura. And if youre asking the same question that this correspondent did during the demo of triple-play, officials assure you that theres no cause for fear. Well, the question is, will the entire system go down once your good old phone goes dead More specifically, will I be able to watch my favourite soap, even when the phone is dead The answer is, even if the phone is dead, your TV will be on. Only when the copper phone line is physically cut/damaged, that TV programmes will be disrupted.

On the potential of the India market in audio and video services, Mr Godura says, Were in the right place at the right time. With the catchline, good old copper.