Sun ready, DTH play becoming hot chase for satellite space

MUMBAI: Having finalised on Malaysia-based Astro as his 20 per cent equity partner, Sun network chairman and managing director Kalanithi Maran is preparing the ground to launch his direct-to-home (DTH) service. He has decided on Iredeto as the encryption system while the set-top boxes (STBs) will be from Coship Electronics in China and South Africa-based UEC Technologies, a source close to the company says.

"He is also looking at more STB vendors. Besides the basic box which will be competitively priced, he will have graded STBs. Multiple vendors will ensure supply safety in case of a huge demand for his service," adds the source.

Maran will be using MPEG-4 technology that will allow him to compress more TV channels per transponder. While MPEG-2 can pack in around 12 channels, the advanced compression technology will be able to accommodate over 20 channels.

Maran will have seven Ku-band transponders on Insat-4B, which launches on 10 March, while Prasar Bharati's free-to-air (FTA) package DD Direct Plus will have five on the same satellite.

He may consider himself lucky when the launch of Insat-4C satellite failed in July 2006 after the rocket carrying it veered off course and exploded. He had booked six Ku-band transponders (and one more for digital satellite news gathering) on it for Sun Direct's DTH service.

By being located on the same satellite, Sun's subscribers will be able to access DD Direct's channels without Maran having to separately put them on his transponders.

Dish TV which was sharing the NSS-6 satellite with DD, will not be hit badly after the migration. Since NSS-6 is at 95 degree East, a minor realignment of antenna will be required for receiving the channels as Insat-4B shall be located at 93.5 degree East. Tata Sky, on the other hand, will have to recarry DD channels on their transponders.

The DTH play in India is, indeed, turning out to be a hot chase for satellite space. If Tata Sky had to wait for the launch of Insat-4A as rival Dish TV aggressively went on mopping up customers, it is now the turn of Anil Ambani's Bluemagic and Bharti Telemedia to plead with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to provide them with Ku-band transponders.

In the sprint to start DTH before the market gets taken away, Bharti may be the clear loser. Unless, of course, it gets the approval from Isro to be on Measat-3, a foreign satellite launched from the Astro Group.

"Measat has made their Ku-band transponders available for us and have supplied the data. We are studying it technically and are making an internal evaluation," says Isro contract management and legal services director SB Iyer.

The satellite has 49 dbW (decibel Watts) as compared to Insat's 53. "We have indicated this problem and Measat has said that it would examine it and come up with a solution. Insat-4B has 53 dcW and offers a powerful beam across the country. We will have to ensure quality and also come into an agreement with Measat. Besides, the users will also have to express their interest in the satellite," says Iyer.

Measat-3 has 24 Ku-band transponders and has been designed to provide capability for data services and DTH applications in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Indian Subcontinent.

If no clearance is given to Measat, Bharti will have to wait the longest with Insat-4G launching only by 2008-end. The DTH market could possibly have settled by then with the spoils being distributed among Dish TV, Tata Sky, Sun and Reliance's Bluemagic.

Anil Ambani will get a shot at the DTH market after Insat-4CR (replacement) launches in the quarter beginning July this year. Reliance has asked for eight Ku-band transponders and Isro is reserving the remaining four for other users like National Informatics Centre.

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