Isro constraints weigh heavily on Tata Sky future

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TATA group seems to have run into an issue of shortage of spectrum in
yet another venture beyond its telecom flagship Tata Teleservices.

Tata Sky, the Direct to Home (DTH) TV joint venture of the Tata group is awaiting the allotment of additional transponders from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) for the past four years.

Harit Nagpal, MD & CEO at Tata Sky said, “We had applied for an additional 12 transponders in 2007 and as per the policy we should've got additional transponders within 24 months of application. Due to delays in the launch of ISRO's GSAT-10 satellite we are yet to get the same till date.“ He estimates that the transponders will allow the company to double the number of channels it offers subscribers from 200 at present to 400.

Tata Sky is a three-way JV between Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the Tata group and Singapore government-owned private equity giant Temasek. Last Friday ISRO launched the GSAT 12, also a communications satellite from Sriharikota. But DTH providers such as Tata Sky will not be eligible to get transponder capacity on this 12 transponder satellite.

ISRO has chosen European Arianespace to launch the GSAT-10 communications satellite which has payloads for communications, navigation and broadcasting (DTH). However, the launch is slated for the first quarter of 2012, using an Ariane 5 from the Guiana Space Center, Europe's Spaceport, in Kourou, French Guiana.

GSAT-10 coverage zone will include the entire Indian sub-continent. The satellite's design life exceeds 15 years. “At this point we can't carry new channels that the I&B ministry releases. Nor can we add any more HD channels to the six we already have due to capacity constraints,“ said Nagpal.

Tata Sky's competitor Dish TV in contrast claims to offer 350 channels. The industry estimates that as many as 600-650 channels are being beamed in India when one includes regional and even some local channels. A growing number of channels are also being broadcast in high definition (HD) and these consume far more satellite bandwidth as they offer sharper pictures and richer colours. The industry expects that as many as 40 channels are expected to become available in HD mode over the next two years. `Limited transponder capacity remains a key issue.

DTH ramp-up of HDTV services will therefore face near-term challenges,“ said a report by Media Partners Asia an industry consultancy.

“Once we start looking beyond the metros, the next big jump will come from smaller towns. To tap this demand it will be important for us to be able to broadcast the top 20-25 regional channels in that state for which again we need transponder capacity,“ said Nagpal.
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