(with inputs from Salman SH)

Airtel today launched a DTH set-top-box (STB) with Android TV, preloaded with apps like Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, etc. This offering essentially combines its DTH service of over 500 satellite channels, with the ability to stream content on TV using apps supported by Android TV. The set-top-box connects to the Internet over WiFi, and Airtel says that users will need at least a 4mbps connection for Internet TV to work. According to Akamai, only 38% of Internet connections in India were above the 4Mbps threshold during Q4-CY16.

Why is Airtel doing this?

With Internet connectivity improving in India, the threat of “cord-cutting” (i.e. going off traditional distribution) is on top-of-mind for most DTH and cable companies. By launching a set-top-box which integrates Android TV, Airtel ends up giving users more choice, locks them into the service with the box, and helps the DTH service retain customers. We don’t have data on the Smart TV penetration in India, but there are plenty of devices that allow users to convert HD TVs into “Smart” TVs. Netflix is integrated with most Smart TV’s, even though the service is expensive in India, at around Rs 499 per month. Note that Airtel Internet TV doesn’t bundle in Netflix, but users can still sign up for a free trial, which they can on any Smart TV. All this integration really achieves is that it gives users multiple options for streaming services, including Airtel’s Wynk Movies, in a single menu. While that’s convenient, I’m wondering (once again) about why I still have a DTH connection…

According to the TRAI, (pdf), there were 6 different (payable) DTH operators in India, with a total of 62.65 million active subscribers who pay for DTH services.

It’s only a matter of time before Airtel DTH competitors – Tata Sky and Dish TV – launch their own Android TV set top boxes. Videocon D2H, which is now merging with Dish TV, already has a similar ‘smart STB’ with Internet connectivity but does not run on Android TV. TataSky also offers Internet-enabled STBs but without an Android TV support. Jio is also expected to come out with its own set of DTH and IPTV services, which is probably what prompted this move from Airtel.

Pricing and features

Pricing: The set-top-box will go on sale on Amazon India starting April 12th, 2017. With bundling, the set-top-box costs Rs 4999 with a 3-month DTH subscription and Rs 7999 with a 1-year DTH subscription. Airtel said they’ll get back to us about the pricing of the set-top-box without the DTH bundling: if you’re already an Airtel DTH customer, how much will you have to pay? Airtel Broadband users are being given 25 GB additional data every month for streaming, via the MYHOME tab on the MyAirtel app.

Note that Google Chromecast 2 is priced at Rs 3999 in India, and will achieve the same goal, except the DTH bit.

Remote with Google voice commands: The STB comes with a Bluetooth-enabled remote control, integrated with Google voice search and command features. If you already have a DTH connection, the only added advantage of Airtel Internet TV is that you can use a remote, which you can’t with a streaming stick like Chromecast.

– Google Chromecast support: Support for Google Chromecast essentially allows users to mirror content and services from their phones to the smart TV. The Chromecast support is primarily meant for running Google Play games and using smartphones as controllers.

– Pause, rewind live TV: The STB supports 4K video viewing and allows users to pause live television broadcasts, record it and replay it later.