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High Potential, Low Uptake: Key issues and concerns

April 29, 2011

Internet protocol TV (IPTV), though at a nascent stage in India, is becoming popular across the world. Not only does it have the potential of opening up new revenue streams for the cash-strapped telecom operators, it can also significantly change the whole TV experience.

IPTV makes a regular TV set intelligent and offers users a better experience by enabling interactivity as well as by delivering digital content. The service bundles value-added services such as video-on-demand (VoD) and movie-on-demand, and integrates TV with social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

It is also a major business segment for telecom operators. With fixed line networks already in place, operators can offer IPTV services without any significant additional capex. They can also generate significant revenues from advertising. This would help service providers to limit subscriber churn in the fixed line segment.

Though India’s first IPTV rollout was undertaken by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited in 2006, its mass market adoption is yet to take place, unlike the popularity of wireless phones, laptops and iPods. Factors like a weak value proposition for customers, low consumer awareness and poor marketing have contributed to the lukewarm response to IPTV.

tele.net takes a look at some of the major issues that have been hindering large-scale uptake of this service…

Broadband penetration and bandwidth

One of the most important requirements for the success of IPTV is broadband infrastructure and penetration. India’s broadband penetration, at less than 1 per cent, is among the lowest in the world. Going forward, this issue is expected to be resolved with the launch of broadband wireless access.

Inadequate bandwidth has also been impeding IPTV uptake. IPTV requires 33 per cent more bandwidth than cable networks to become a viable option and offer high quality services. The issue is not just limited to the quantity of bandwidth required for a single stream (multicast or otherwise), but also includes the scalability of bandwidth, given the increasing use of high definition channels and multiple TV sets per household.

Infrastructure issues

IPTV infrastructure in India is far below the required standards. The country lacks high speed wiring and is still dependent on copper or coaxial cables for IPTV network deployment. Some countries have shifted to optic fibre for offering high quality IPTV services. Also, the country’s last mile connectivity infrastructure faces issues as wires, both underground and overhead, often get twisted and cause disturbances in traffic flow.

Deployment challenges

There are several deployment and implementation challenges hindering the growth of the segment. These include network issues like bandwidth drops that have a direct effect on the video quality; operational issues like frequently updating routing tables; and network management. At the consumer end, issues like wiring, interference, additional customer premises equipment (CPE) requirements and post-installation challenges are being faced.


Content is a critical factor for the success of IPTV. In a country like India, where there are 500-700 TV channels with over 30,000 shows in more than 10 languages every week, the consumer is spoilt for choice. Therefore, the offered content needs to be attractive without compromising on quality. Moreover, with interactivity being a USP for IPTV, users would expect more relevant and customised content based on their taste and preferences. In this scenario, taking into account the dynamics of customers’ reaction to TV content would be a key factor for IPTV service providers. This will help operators decide the content’s timing, pricing, availability and relevance as well as its quality and personal interest value.


The Indian market is very sensitive to pricing and IPTV providers will need to carefully price services to gain a competitive edge. In addition, to make the service affordable, CPE prices need to be reduced. Currently, the cost of set-top boxes is very high and manufacturers need to adopt innovative design models with low-cost manufacturing capabilities to reduce these costs.

On the content front, costs vary depending on the type of content and the kind of deals service providers sign with the broadcaster. Operators should offer services that are not being provided by their competitors, including live TV, VoD and digital video recorders.

Lack of awareness and poor marketing

Indian operators have not aggressively promoted IPTV in the way direct-to-home (DTH) TV operators have. Consequently, awareness about the service has not reached the desired levels. Though IPTV offers advantages like time-shifted TV over normal cable or DTH services, consumers are not aware of all offerings and benefits.

This issue can be addressed by marketing and educating customers through experience centres and advertisements. Telecom operators need to promote IPTV in the way they publicised 3G services.

Mobile TV

Mobile TV, a technology that combines two of the most popular entertainment platforms in India – TV and telephone – was looked at as an instant success by industry experts. While there are over 700 million mobile connections in the country, only 134 million households have TV sets. This gap presents a major opportunity for the mobile TV segment.

The introduction of smartphones, technological advancements in handset manufacturing and the increasing disposable income of the upper and middle strata of society were seen as the major factors contributing to the success of mobile TV in the country. The segment was also seen as a revenue generator for both mobile operators and broadcasting companies.

However, while web video viewing through mobile handsets has taken off, the delivery of mobile TV services has promised much but delivered little. The customer experience has so far failed to make an impact despite the increasing use and sophistication of smartphones.

Industry experts are increasingly viewing mobile TV as a niche service in India due to several challenges. These key areas of concern include:


Providing content is the biggest challenge for mobile TV as content developed for the large screen does not suit the small mobile screen. There is a need to develop mobile TV-specific content such as mobisodes, which are relatively short episodes of popular TV shows. Also, given the short attention span of users, the content should be crisp and engaging.


A key factor for the smooth functioning and commercial success of mobile TV is the availability of radio spectrum. Towards this end, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has announced its plans to auction 96 units (in MHz) of spectrum in the 700 MHz band to four players for offering mobile TV services. However, this has been opposed by the telecom ministry on two grounds – because the 700 MHz band ranges from 698 MHz to 806 MHz, which has been identified by the International Telecommunication Union for telecom services, and as mobile TV services have not witnessed large-scale adoption globally.

High costs

For the Indian mobile TV market, where almost 96 per cent of the mobile phone segment comprises prepaid users and ARPUs continue to be low, the cost of services remains the biggest challenge. To make mobile TV a profitable business for telecom operators, all stakeholders need to work towards reducing mobile TV service costs. To reduce network rollout and content costs, existing mobile networks can be combined with broadcast networks, and content costs can be partially financed through advertising revenues.

Revenue sharing conflicts

At present, there is no clarity about how revenues from mobile TV services will be shared by broadcasters, content distributors and telecom operators. Broadcasters are of the view that they should manage the revenues, given their familiarity with the TV business and their established relationships with content providers. Operators, on the other hand, feel that they understand the mobile business better. They also have distribution channels for mobile TV receivers, which are often integrated into mobile phones, and have service contracts and billing relationships with customers.

Battery consumption

The battery consumption of advanced applications like mobile TV is very high. To support such high-end services, handsets need to have improved battery life. A temporary solution is a vehicle dashboard or a dashtop mobile charging device, which can also be powered by a 12 V vehicle battery. However, these batteries are not a sustainable source of power for mobile devices.


The memory of handsets should be high in order to support the high buffer requirements of mobile TV. Though smartphones has been addressing this issue to some extent, in most handsets, memory capabilities are not suited to long hours of mobile TV viewing. Also, potential future applications like peer-to-peer video sharing in mobile phones and consumer broadcasting would add to the increasing memory requirements.


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