Ku-band Supply Crisis in South Asia: Myth or Reality?

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
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Direct-to-Home (DTH) services are the red hot topic in the South Asian commercial transponder market with most satellite operators with Ku-band coverage of the region vying to get a cut of the action. Many within the industry are even raising the question if there simply is enough Ku-band transponder supply available and planned for the coming years to meet the rapid increase in Ku-band capacity demand in the region. DTH services are in fact locking down so much capacity that other satellite users, such as those for broadband services, are feeling squeezed and are afraid capacity pricing will jump, if they can get the capacity they need at all.

India alone has issued six DTH licenses, and the public broadcaster Doordarshan is looking to keep expanding its mainly free-to-air DD DIRECT+ platform as channel owners seek carriage on this bouquet. Dish TV India (DishTV) was the first private DTH platform to launch in India followed by Tata Sky. It is understood that both Sun TV’s Sun Direct DTH service and Reliance’s Blue Magic platform should be up by the end of 2007 to be followed by Bharti Telemedia, a subsidiary of Bharti Airtel Ltd, which has received its DTH license and is currently planning a service launch before the end of March 2008. And in July 2007 it was reported that Videocon, an Indian consumer electronics giant, was also eyeing the DTH market, though they do not think they could enter until late 2008 at the earliest. Beyond India, Northern Sky Research (NSR) has also heard reports of movement in the Pakistani market for DTH services plus other countries in South Asia such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and some of the Himalayan countries are seeing strengthening of their Ku-band video distribution markets plus the possibility of future DTH as well.

In the last month, a number of key contracts for addressing the DTH market have been announced. In early November, MEASAT Satellite Systems Sdn. Bhd. and Antrix Corporation Limited, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, announced that an initial eight Ku-band transponders on MEASAT-3 had been leased to provision DTH platforms for the Indian market. The contract holds open the possibility of leasing further Ku-band capacity in the future. And then on 19 November, ProtoStar Ltd. and Antrix reported that they had inked a deal for six Ku-band transponders (36 MHz equivalents) to also be used for DTH services in India. ProtoStar will be initially providing capacity to Antrix that it has leased from a third party and then will transition to the ProtoStar-I satellite expected to be launched in the second quarter of 2008 and the eventual ProtoStar-II satellite currently scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2009. Antrix has stated that this contract will help it bridge high demand for Ku-band capacity in India until new Insat capacity becomes available.

So, is there a Ku-band supply crisis in South Asia? This, in fact, is a very hard question to answer because so many variables come into play. First, not all of the current or planned Ku-band capacity that is addressable to the South Asian market is suitable for DTH services. Look angles for the satellites may be too low for these small dish services, power levels may not be sufficient, or quite simply the capacity may already be leased for other services and just not available. Further, allocation of unleased Ku-band supply to a specific region is somewhat arbitrary because, for example, a satellite with a Ku-band capacity covering both South Asia and Southeast Asia can provide services into either region. So if there are several unleased Ku-band transponders on the beam, then they can be allocated into either region (or some combination) in terms of trying to determine Ku-band supply availability. Plus, capacity can also be switched between beams on some satellites should demand arise elsewhere or, in the case of steerable beams, capacity can be repointed to wherever demand is emerging.

Despite these limits to the assessment, NSR has gathered data from its recently released Global Assessment of Satellite Demand (GASD), 4th Edition study in order to see if any conclusions can be drawn regarding just how tight the Ku-band market could get in South Asia.

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