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Is Airtel Getting Its IPTV & DTH Act Together?

Bharti Telemedia, the Broadband, DTH, Wireline and IPTV arm of Bharti Airtel is expected to launch the groups DTH operations in six weeks, reports Mint. This is a couple of quarters later than previously announced. The DTH service will be branded Airtel, and rates will be the same as other DTH operators. At present, DTH services around 13 million households, compared to around 75 million that cable reaches. DD Direct has 6 million subs, and Tata Sky. Dish TV and Sun Direct have 6 million subs in all. Others eying the DTH space include Reliance Communications and Videocon’s Bharat Business Channel Pvt Ltd (related story). While the service will use MPEG4, I wonder if that’ll make a difference when it rains…More here.

Meanwhile, another report claims that Telemedia is “all set” to launch IPTV services. I think Airtel’s been “all set” to launch IPTV services for quite a while – they’ve been testing IPTV in Gurgaon for over a year and a half (a review here). Punit Garg, GM IPTV for Airtel had told me last year that they were going to launch IPTV in December, but that never happened. Apparently, private telecom operators are not yet allowed to launch IPTV services – according to this report, the I&B ministry had pulled up Airtel for launching services without approval. This, while MTNL has commercially launched IPTV services.

Telemedia’s revenues grew at around 23 percent year-on-year in Q1 of this fiscal. At present, wireline services are operational in 94 cities, and Airtel is likely to use its mobile retail sales reach of 923472 outlets. Two different battles in this space – while Public telcos (MTNL, BSNL) have been pushing IPTV to stem the decline of wireline services, Private Telcos are banking on it to help grow the subscriber base. So far, Telemedia has an impressive broadband coversion rate of 35.6%, with around 85.3 lakh broadband subs out of 23,93,732 wireline subs.

It appears that Airtel has been hedging its bets between IPTV and DTH – In India, the last mile is not unbundled and the cost of deploying wireline infrastructure is a deterrant. At the same time, DTH, though not as interactive, already has regulatory approvals, and is also not as regulated as IPTV. Chances are that given the commercial muscle behind DTH, it has received greater consumer acceptance than IPTV. For Airtel, both technologies offer more Average Revenue Per User than the mobile space…and it looks like DTH will win.

Airtel Mobile VAS Revenues At Rs. 235.55 Crores Per Month; Non-SMS 57% of VAS At Rs. 133.56 Crores Per Month
Why The Decline In Wireline Subscribers Isn’t Good For India; Subscriber Numbers
Is Videocon Looking To Acquire Loss Making IPTV And VoIP Co IOL Netcom?

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