At a time when CAS and DTH service providers are battling it out for a share of the Delhi and Mumbai markets, Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL) has announced the launch of IPTV services in the two metros. Commercial operations in Delhi will begin from November1, 2006, while operations in Mumbai are expected to commence from the beginning of next year.
IPTV or Internet Protocol Television is a new mode of distribution of television and VAS content through broadband connection. MTNL will offer this service to its MTNL broadband subscribers in Delhi and Mumbai using its existing broadband network. At launch, the service will offer traditional television broadcast, time-shifted TV (last one week’s television content aired by any channel available at the push of a button), video and music on demand and video-calling on TV facilities. The software, hardware and content delivery for IPTV service will be managed by Aksh Optifibre Ltd.
“IPTV is a disruptive technology and is set to change the way one watches TV in India,” said MTNL Chairman R S P Sinha. He, however, did not agree to the proposition that IPTV posed a threat to other forms of television distribution like DTH and CAS. “We are not going to take away any of their market share. Rather, IPTV will supplement such services.”
So why is so much fuss being made out of IPTV? “We have a hidden agenda,” confesses Sinha, adding, “We want to push up our ARPU from our fixed line services.”
MTNL broadband subscribers have to pay Rs 500 as registration charges for the service. The minimum fee for basic service of free-to-air channel will be Rs 125 per month, charged on a quarterly basis. Further charges would be on the basis of the content or the service the subscriber would avail of. On a monthly payment of Rs 250, one can see about 30 paid channels and all free-to-air channels.
At present, MTNL is providing 30 channels. The STAR bouquet will soon be included in its offering. “STAR India will be providing its channels on an experimental basis, which we will provide free of cost to our subscribers within a few days,” Sinha said.
“The possibilities with IPTV are endless. Video-on-demand, audio-on-demand, game-on-demand, video-calling, tele-medicine, e-distance learning, and virtual classrooms are some of the innovative applications of IPTV. Our existing presence in over 3.8 million homes in Delhi and Mumbai through our landline phones will give MTNL a tremendous headstart,” pointed out Sinha.
The deposit for the IPTV set-top box is also being charged in an innovative fashion. The one-time deposit will be converted into an interest bearing fixed deposit for a five-year term in favour of the consumer. The entire amount (with interest) will be paid back to the consumer upon maturity or elective termination of service and return of the set-top box, whichever occurs earlier.
“IPTV is the future of home entertainment and communication. The guaranteed success of this service is also a forerunner to the inevitable arrival of fibre-to-home content delivery backbone in India. In India, time shifted TV, where you can watch programmes of the last two hours, and video-calling will be the killer applications,” said Dr Kailash Choudhari, MD, Aksh Optifibre Ltd.
The biggest advantage is that IPTV will offer to consumers the ability to integrate television broadcast with other IP-based services like high speed Internet access and voice-over-Internet – all accessible on the TV set.
Video-on-demand, with thousands of movies that can be beamed directly to TV sets at the push of a button; booking of movie tickets with one’s TV remote; and online chats, the applications are unlimited. Being an open platform, IPTV will also allow creation of thousands of third-party applications that can be offered through the system – from placing orders for cakes and flowers to trading of stocks while watching a business news channel and even advanced tele-medicine.