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DTH cos prefer foreign satellites to INSAT series

Bapun Raz

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New Delhi: Squeezed by the spectrum crunch and the falling reliability of INSAT satellites, India’s DTH operators are migrating to foreign satellites, as they strive to launch more channels, add services and win customers in the R10,000-crore domestic market. Operators, who officially cite the limited spectrum on INSAT satellites for their decision to switch satellites, privately point to the frequent technical glitches they face. INSAT satellites come from Antrix, the commercial wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

Sun Direct, the DTH service from the Sun TV Group, shifted several channels to Measat from Malaysia’s Astro after INSAT 4B, which hosted its channels encountered a major technical snag last July. Digital TV, the DTH arm of Bharti Airtel has also initiated the migration from its allocated INSAT 4CR to SES-7, a Dutch commercial satellite. INSAT 4CR was a replacement satellite for INSAT 4C, which was lost when the GSLV rocket, which was carrying it to space, exploded upon launch.

Sources say Tata Sky, the DTH venture from Tata Sons and Star TV, is talking to foreign satellite operator Intelsat, as the operational life of its current satellite INSAT 4A has reduced by several months due to recent technical glitches. Also, Tata Sky wants to increase its capacity in order to offer more channels to its seven million subscribers. Market leader Dish TV has already spread its satellite inventory between three satellites, of which two are foreign.

Isro officials refused to comment on INSAT satellites’ reliability. An email sent to the company remained unanswered at the time of going to press. However, S Satish, Isro’s director (publications and PR) said: “We are shortly going to launch the GSAT 5 with 36 transponders which is expected to fill the void created by the partial failure of INSAT 4B recently. It has got 24 Ku-band transponders as well.”

Apart from spectrum crunch and limited or lack of availability of Ku-band transponders over India, operators cite lack of professional approach from Isro and little accountability when things go wrong as prime reasons for moving to foreign satellites.

“There is a dearth of professionalism when it comes to our interaction with Antrix. The broadcasting business is not growing at the pace it should because of limitations in migrating to foreign satellites,” said Ajay Jain, CEO of Lamhas, a leading teleport operator.

Sensing business opportunity, a host of foreign satellites over India are re-arranging their capacity to service Indian operators. These include satellites like ABS-1, Eutelsat, Thiacom, Intelsat, Measat, Asiasat, and SES-7. However, due to strict regulations, all domestic operators have to get on Isro’s clearance before migrating to a foreign satellite.

“The DTH business has absorbed over Rs 17,000 crore in investments over the last 6-7...