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A Long Way to Go: A nascent but growing sector in India

April 29, 2011

The changing technological scenario coupled with digitisation of the broadcast industry has revolutionised the information and entertainment sector. Customers today are demanding more value-added content with digital quality, and at cost-effective prices. This change in consumer behaviour has led to the growing popularity of IPTV at the international level. In 2010, there were about 45 million IPTV subscribers globally.

While the impetus for IPTV services came from developed markets, the future holds promise for developing countries that are projected to see a robust increase in IPTV subscriptions. Emerging countries, primarily those in the Asia-Pacific region like India and China, are likely to act as drivers of growth for the IPTV industry.

India being a unique market, with both affordability and capacity, is expected to witness increasing demand for such services. According to Frost & Sullivan, India will be among the top 15 markets in the Asia-Pacific region for IPTV services in the coming years.

Slow growth of IPTV in India 

IPTV, when introduced in the country, was expected to be the next big technology driver in the telecom industry. However, the service did not pick up as expected. This was due to a host of factors including low broadband penetration and slow internet access speeds across the country. Other factors like lack of customer awareness about the benefits of IPTV and high price points also contributed to the low subscriber levels.

Nevertheless, with broadband access gaining momentum of late, IPTV is set to take off in India. The service is expected to be available in around 30 cities by 2011 and, as per IDC estimates, the number of subscribers in India is expected to reach 1 million by end-2011, with 15.9 per cent of all residential broadband users utilising these services.

IPTV player focus 

Currently, there are only a handful of operators present in the sector. There are four main IPTV service providers in India: public sector players Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), and private sector players Bharti airtel and Reliance Communications (RCOM). These operators are providing IPTV services either individually or through franchises.

The private players have a limited presence so far and face stiff competition from the state-owned companies that have access to vast landline infrastructure. MTNL and BSNL, which already have a strong presence in the wireline segment, have been more aggressive in rolling out IPTV services. This is also a means for them to retain their dwindling landline subscribers.

The IPTV model is focused on providing triple-play services with the aim of offering other value-added services (VAS) like broadband, online gaming and e-commerce that can easily be bundled with it.

BSNL and MTNL: The franchise model 

BSNL launched its countrywide IPTV network in January 2009 under a franchise model. In 2009, MTNL also opted to introduce IPTV by tying up with private players after three years of the soft-launch in October 2006.

Aksh Optifibre, a leading IPTV technology provider in India, is one such partner that operates as a franchise for BSNL and MTNL. The firm enjoys the biggest subscriber base in this industry and has a large footprint covering 22 cities – 20 cities in north India with BSNL, and Delhi and Mumbai with MTNL.

Aksh iControl, India’s first IPTV service offered on BSNL and MTNL networks, enables customers to pause, rewind, fast forward and record live TV. It also provides a range of other services such as live video communications tools that allow subscribers to message and talk to each other as well as interact live with their favourite shows through polling and karaoke features. Other facilities include video-on-demand (VoD), time shift TV, online gaming and video yellow pages.

Aksh Optifibre is increasingly raising finances for the aggressive expansion of its IPTV services in India. After closing a funding of $25 million through global depository receipts, the company is targeting an amount of $333 million for further development of its IPTV business.

BSNL and MTNL are planning to launch “MyWay”, an IPTV service, along with Smart Digivision, over the next few years. BSNL will cover 54 cities, and MTNL will cover Delhi. This accounts for around 80 per cent of the country’s broadband subscriber base.

MyWay IPTV features high quality digital picture, chat, internet, SMS and MMS, ticket booking, maps, astrology and an interactive programme guide. It also includes content like movies-on-demand, music, special events, games and TV programmes and karaoke-on-demand.

Airtel and RCOM: Expanding coverage 

Bharti airtel and RCOM are yet to establish a strong presence in the IPTV industry. However, they are now aiming to expand their IPTV business by covering different cities.

airtel, which launched its IPTV service in early 2009 in the national capital circle covering Delhi, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida, announced the extension of its triple-play services to Bangalore.

airtel Digital TV Interactive is offered to customers through a carrier Ethernet network with last mile delivery on copper using ADSL2+ technology. The service enables customers to watch high quality picture through MPEG-4 digital compression along with DVB-S2 technology. The service includes over 130 channels, time-shift TV, VoD library, interactive TV offering movie ticket booking, internet surfing, holiday planner, games and music via the All India Radio feature, etc.

RCOM offers IPTV services in Mumbai. The operator is focusing on broadening its coverage in the country by launching the service in six other cities, besides Delhi, where it plans to introduce IPTV in the near future.

Reliance IPTV comprises high definition picture, real-time VoD, subtitles and audio language choice, preview of movies, rich content categorisation, catch-up TV, and search options for video, people and titles.

Future of IPTV in India 

IPTV is positioned to become the next step in the Indian telecommunications industry. However, certain challenges like creating standards in this niche sector, broadband access and connectivity issues, and lack of awareness about the new technology by TV viewers need to be dealt with. Further, operators need to focus more on the quality of service as well as strengthening their customer care in order to provide subscribers with a complete and enhanced IPTV viewing experience.


Although IPTV is at a nascent stage in India, the future of the service is promising as it provides growth prospects for telecom operators, who are facing falling ARPUs in the fixed line segment and high churn rates due to migration to mobile services. IPTV would enable telecom operators to get new broadband subscribers with fixed lines while also retaining old customers. In addition, IPTV would allow service providers to add to their income by offering a host of other value-added services as part of a bundled package. 

Indian users’ response to IPTV has been positive. However, it will take a few years for the service to gain scale and realise its full potential realised when broadband penetration and internet speeds reach high levels.


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