Cable TV

DEN Network fixed-line b’band biz plan hinges on partnerships & leveraging present infra

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MUMBAI: With telcos handing out data at cheap rates in various package sizes under innovative schemes, mobile data consumption has increased rapidly in India in the last few years, while the growth of fixed-line broadband (FLBB) users has been tepid, if not completely static. MSO DEN Networks now wants to tap the hitherto unexplored opportunities of FLBB as a business proposition. So, what’s the plan?

Not only DEN wants to use its own and partners’ customer bases in 100 small cities of India, but is also, probably, eyeing the huge FLBB market that will open up as the Indian government ramps up its BharatNet project to provide Internet and broadband services to approximately 250,000 gram panchayats or local village administrations through state-run telcos and third-party service providers, including cable operators. 

The reason for hi-speed broadband in 100 cities in 10 Indian states is to try overcome the low returns in big cities and metros. “We have also seen a lot of stress in the fixed line broadband ARPUs of all the major metros, be it Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore [and] Kolkata,” DEN Networks CEO SN Sharma said during a recent analyst call, going onto add that the ARPUS were low in the “top 10 towns of the country”.

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In April, DEN Broadband Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of DEN Networks, had announced expansion of its hi-speed internet services to 100 cities across India.  After completion, DEN Broadband aims to enable 1.1 crore (11 million) Indian households with high-speed broadband services by 2020 with 20 MB speeds on an average under different sets of packaging and schemes --- in contrast to average lower offerings from various telcos.

And, to back its claims, DEN Networks quotes data from international and domestic sources. In a presentation made to investors, the Sameer Manchanda-founded company justified its focus on FLBB by saying that if regulator TRAI’s December 2017 data was to be believed, there were 425 million wireless Internet subscribers, while there were only 18 million FLBB subs. Over the years, Indian FLBB growth has remained static compared to its APAC peers like Australia, China, Vietnam and Thailand.

So, how is DEN going to go about its FLBB plans in 100 cities? The company plans to leverage its existing cable universe and tie-ups with last mile operators by going the franchisee model, leveraging present infrastructure (80 per cent already fibre-enabled), and lower capex and operational costs. Affordable technology like Metro Ethernet and GPON, coupled with standardized technical solutions, customer support from DEN and a pre-paid collect model on B2C basis, according to the company, would make good business sense.

“We have a plan to enable 15 towns in the first quarter. Overall, 100 towns have to be enabled, and you will be surprised that LCOs themselves are approaching us,” Sharma informed an analyst, adding that it was not just a one-way traffic as company execs too were tapping LCOs informing them of the benefits as the infrastructure is already in place and the project could have additional revenue spin-offs for the LCOs. DEN has earmarked Rs. 100 crore (Rs.1 billion) as capex for the FLBB project over the three-year period.

What is fueling DEN’s aspirations? Quoting Singapore-based Media Partners Asia figures, the company presentation told investors that there had been 

15X rise year-on-year in Internet data traffic in 2017 with video content contributing 65 per cent of total mobile data traffic apart from the fact that India’s FLBB penetration was expected to increase to 10.3 per cent from the present single digit share by year 2022. Moreover, as content and applications keep getting heavier and denser in size, FLBB high speed broadband solutions could be ideal for offices and homes.

“Our fiber is just 100 meters away from each of the subscriber that is being served by us,” Sharma explained to analysts, adding with broadband ARPUs low in metros and bigger cities it was decided to target the rest of the country that is not only a “virgin area” but has “equally good” demand.

Asked about Reliance Jio’s ambitious plans to rollout broadband services in the country, which can disrupt this segment too, Sharma refused to comment, saying, “I am nobody to comment on others business.” 

Also Read :

DEN expands broadband services; plans Rs 100 cr capex

Aim to take phase 3 ARPU to phase 1 value: Den Networks' SN Sharma

DEN readies Android-based STB for Feb launch

TDSAT rules in favor of DEN Networks, directs ZEE entertainment to provide channels on RIO basis

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