Telcos firm up IPTV plans; cable operators remain undecided

Written by Soma Das | New Delhi, Aug 28 | Updated: Aug 30 2008, 05:13am hrs
With the decks cleared for the launch of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), the countrys leading telecom service providers like BSNL, MTNL, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications have already signalled their plans to foray into the segment. However, cable TV operators are yet to firm up their plans regarding IPTV services.

While a section of cable operators see IPTV services as an opportunity to migrate faster to a digitised medium from analogue, some perceive it as a technology yet to mature and offer nothing more than what the cable TV is offering at present, apart from some value-added services like video on demand.

According to Ashok Mansukhani, president, Multi-System Operator (MSO) Alliance, Currently IPTV is being conceived as just another mode of delivering content. However, the real potential of IPTV will be realised in using it as a medium of distribution and digitise the cable sector.

Mansukhani said that the cost of digitising the cable sector through IPTV would be much lower than through Direct to Home (DTH) or Headend In The Sky (HITS). The financial implication of digitising through IPTV is difficult to estimate right now, added Mansukhani. The cost of installing a headend is around Rs 10 crore.

Since a minimum of one headend will be required to be installed in the city or town, the investment in only setting up headends excluding all other costs for a MSO with a footprint in 1,000 cities and towns will exceed Rs 10,000 crore. On the contrary despite any firm estimates for IPTV, experts maintain that it would be less than HITS.

However, Jagjit Singh Kohli, CEO, Digicable Networks, which claims to reach 12 million subscribers, believes that technically it might be correct to say that digitising through IPTV will be cheaper, owing to factors like running a control room becomes easier but the network needed for it is much more complex.

Kohli said Digicable plans to offer services like video-on-demand through IPTV. Mansukhani, said his company is waiting for the fine print of IPTV policy, after which only it will decide on offering the services.

He however, added that if the Telecom Regulation Authority of India recommendations are accepted without any modifications, his company, the Hinduja Groups IndusInd Media would venture into the services.

According to Kohli, IPTV is a compulsion for the telecom service providers since they have limited bandwidth at their disposal while the cable sector's existing system of digitising through DTT (digital terrestrial TV) is much more robust.

At present, state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd and Bharat

Sanchar Nigam Ltd offer IPTV services on their broadband networks. Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications Ltd (Rcomm) tied up with Microsoft last November to deliver IPTV. Sunil Mittal-led, the countrys largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel is also slated to enter this space.

According to Trai guidelines, telecom service providers having license to provide triple play services and ISPs with net worth more than Rs 100 crore and having permission from the licensor (DoT) can provide IPTV services. However, cable TV operators can offer IPTV services without needing any additional licence.