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Cable and network: Broadbanding India

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Convergence - much potential but miles to go before becoming a reality. That was the main thread of the session on Day 1 of Frames 2002 "Cable and Network: Broadbanding India."

UK-based digital addressable hardware manufacturer Pace strategic business development manager Kuldip Johal spoke about the various solutions that digital set top boxes could provide for applications like phon baneking, shopping, digital TV, Internet, E mail, gaming, security, information, pay TV, and telephony services

According to Johal, 10 per cent of the total revenue of all mobile phone service providers was through SMS messaging, and this was another application for which there was a bright future. He also spoke about Sky Television in UK where it was possible to watch interactive TV and even send emails at the same time. The viewer had a choice of 10 different news items simultaneously and could choose the one he wanted to view. Today the main deciding factors for middleware selection was based on services, content, speed to the market, and most importantly the cost factor, Johal said. Set top boxes offer an interactive gateway for voice video data right at home and networking the entire house is possible.

New emerging technologies will allow operators to provide convergence, the customer does not care about technology, what is important to him is more applications at a competitive cost, Johal said.

Motorola country manager AK Shekar spoke on the need for having a system where the customer could be online whenever he wants quite unlike the dial-up needed for ISP providers. The business model would be driven by subscriber growth and monthly subscription fees.

Shekar said bandwidth requirements had seen a growth of 185 per cent in the last three years, and would be seeing a 10-fold growth in the next three years.

Cable operators could today exploit this revenue model using analogue boxes which could offer a single interface which could offer Internet access on TV, program guides, digital music, video on demand, voice mail, telephone and a host of other applications.

Hathway Cable & Datacom vice-president Neeraj Bhatia spoke about the need for addressability. Today the customer had no choice but to accept the entire bouquet offered by all channels. What was needed was a conditional access (CA) box, he emphasised. There were no niche channels available, and the introduction of CA boxes would see a change in viewership patterns with no fall in advertising revenues.

A new set top box would provide greater credibility, pay revenues would increase, more transparency would be possible wherein the exact number of viewers and subscribers would be known. According to Bhatia, the boxes would be available to the consumer for Rs 3000 and the money for the boxes would come for the consumer through finance companies. This investment was a risk free investment and the box could be deactivated whenever the cable operator chose to, Bhatia said.

Indian Television.com CEO Anil Wanvari requested the industry and government to go easy on the convergence and broadband hype if they wanted convergence to become a reality. He envisoned a future wherein one pipe would provide for electricity, DBS, fixed and wireless telecom, Internet access, and cable TV services in homes. But that is more than 15-20 years away for India, he pointed out. "Most homes even in the US today are on dialup," he pointed out. "What broadband and convergence are we talking about? A broadband kind of service will be unaffordable for most of India. Even today Internet over cable - which can qualify for broadband - is expensive for an individual house at around Rs 900-odd a month. Only a select group can afford it. India has just 2 million Internet subscribers and 5 million users - 99 per cent are using dial up.".

He cautioned that industry and sundry have to be real about convergence and broadband in India. "Earlier, everyone rode the Internet hype, expecting it to drive convergence. Lots of bandwidth projects were proposed, crores in funds raised, but there is no broadband yet. With an obscene amount of bandwidth set to become available on 1 April through SingTel, another convergence hype wave is likely to start."

He suggested that government and industry should draw up a roadmap for convergence which is specific to India and not ape some western country. "A lot of India does not have power, how will it have broadband?" he queried. "It's quite likely that convergence and broadband will be a rich man's play," he pointed out.

He elaborated that government and industry should build a few successful test projects, especially referring to the success that was met with the Kheda project where television was used successfully to educate and inform a community in the early seventies. "Convergence and broadband can alleviate a lot of our nation's ailments- it can be used for education in remote villages, for telemedicine, for e-governance," he said. "Let's not focus only on entertainment."

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