Satellites

If transponder space unavailable on Insat-4B, Sun might opt for Measat3

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MUMBAI: A day after the unfortunate failure of the GSLV-F02 launch rocket carrying the Insat-4C communication satellite, it is not just India's space establishment that has been forced to relook its plans.

For Kalanithi Maran's southern broadcast network Sun Group, the mishap could well mean that the launch of its direct-to-home (DTH) service sees a change of satellite operator. Sun TV had booked seven high-power Ku-band transponders, six for DTH and one for DSNG (digital satellite news gathering), of the total 12 carried by the Indian Space Research Organisation's Insat-4C.

The big question now is this: If Isro is not able to provide Ku-band transponder space for his DTH venture Sun Direct, will Maran opt for an alternative satellite like Malaysia's soon-to-be-launched Measat-3?

Maran already has a running relationship with Measat's parent company Astro, having stitched a deal last year for a $25 million joint venture to originate, aggregate and distribute television programming and channels for a global audience. Measat Broadcast Network Systems is a subsidiary of Astro company which has a 20-year exclusive licence for DTH transmission in Malaysia.

Measat has scheduled a September launch for the Measat-3 satellite. The satellite will be shot into space atop a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Measat-3 will have 24 Ku-band transponders and has been designed to provide capability for data services and DTH applications in Malaysia, Indonesia, India and China.

Maran, however, says he has got intimation from Isro that he will be provided with Ku-band transponders at the earliest. "Isro has assured us of providing alternate transponders to meet our DTH requirements. We have not made any request to Isro for taking space on Measat-3. We were, in any case, looking at a time frame between October-November," the Sun Group promoter tells Indiantelevision.com.

Has Maran been told which satellite will provide him the Ku-band transponders? "We will know from Isro in three to four days," he says.

For DTH providers who want to operate from foreign satellites, Isro will have to provide the approval and lease it out for them. Dish TV, for instance, is on NSS-6 with Isro's backing as required by regulatory norms.

For Isro's commercial arm Antrix Corporation, hiring of foreign transponder space for a short time could be a possibility. There is a precedence of this having happened in the past.

According to a report in Hindu Businessline, when Insat-2D failed, Isro bought transponder space on an Arabsat satellite. Isro has also provided temporary leases on Thaicom, GE-Americom, and even now on NSS, Businessline reported.

At the moment though, Isro has not received any fresh proposal from Maran's DTH company, Sun Direct TV, to lease out a satellite for them. Says Isro contract management and legal services director SB Iyer, "Sun has not asked us for a foreign satellite yet. The failure of Insat-4C is a brief setback which has put us behind 4-6 months. But we are recasting our programme by which we can accelerate the Ku-band capacity growth. We may be putting up larger satellites to boost the capacity."

So will Sun get space on Insat-4B, which is meant for Doordarshan's DTH service like DD Direct Plus? "We haven't taken any decision yet. DD, which is on NSS-6, has a low requirement," says Iyer. Sun has asked up to eight transponders for its DTH service.

Even if Sun gets Insat-4B, the launch of the satellite is expected to take place early next year. The commercial operations can, thus, commence only by the first quarter of next fiscal. "We have the flexibility to accommodate Sun. It is too early to comment on the steps we are going to take," says Iyer.

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