GSAT-15 could boost Sun Direct, Tata Sky’s HD channels

Existing DTH satellite capacity of DTH players

Today’s launch of GSAT-15 communication satellite over India will be a big boost to DTH operations over the country, especially for HD channels, and will benefit players like Sun Direct and Dish TV.

The launch will more than double the DTH capacity of India-owned satellites over the country.

Though India gets a higher level of preference in terms of allocation of space over India’s ‘airspace’, if no satellites are launched in time, the slot will be given to a foreign operator by International Telecommunication Union or ITU.

As such, many slots over India have been given to foreign satellites due to delays by the Indian Space Research Organization in launching its satellites.

At present, a total of 76 satellite transponders are used by Indian DTH operators for carrying out their business in India. Out of this, only 19 are on Indian-owned satellites or INSATs. The remaining are on foreign-owned satellites.

Despite this, Indian DTH players continue to face satellite capacity crunch and many of them have been unable to launch HD channels.

The newly launched GSAT-15 will add a total of 24 Ku band transponders, all of which can be used to beam DTH services into the country.

However, the operator most benefited from the launch will be Sun Direct, with Tata Sky and Reliance DTH also potential candidates.

This is because the GSAT-15 will be placed exactly where one of Sun Direct’s two existing satellites are placed.

Like Dish TV, Sun Direct uses two satellites to ensure that it has enough capacity. For beaming standard-definition channels, it uses the satellite Measat-3, located at 91.5 degrees east. Anil Ambani Group’s Reliance DTH also uses the same satellite.

However, Sun Direct DTH uses one transponder on INSAT 4B located at 93.5 degrees east to beam its HD channels. As a result, any customer who subscribes to HD packages gets a bigger dish antenna which is capable of receiving signals from both satellites.

Dish TV also has a similar mechanism.

The older, standard-definition channels are bounced off the NSS-6 satellite (95 degrees), while the newer HD channels are beamed using 6 transponders on Asiasat-5 located at 100.5 degrees. In addition, Dish subscribers also get DD Direct Plus channels, which are sent using INSAT 4B located at 93.5 degrees (also the position of the new satellite). Any customer who subscribes to the Dish’s HD package gets an extra-wide dish that is capable of capturing signals from all three satellites. (This opens up the possibility that Dish TV can add to its HD bouquet by using the new satellite as well.)

In fact, Sun Direct used to have all its channels beamed from 5 transponders on the INSAT 4B. But in July 2010, power problems on the satellite forced the shutdown of 4 transponders, forcing Sun TV to move most of its channels to the neighboring Measat-3. This also forced Sun TV to send its engineers to each and every household to re-tune their dish antennas to the new satellite.

The launch of GSAT-15 will therefore come as a big blessing to Sun Direct in case it wants to increase its HD offerings.

At present, due to satellite capacity shortage, Sun Direct has the lowest number of HD channels among all operators with the exception of Reliance Digital TV.

With a big increase in the number of transponders at 93.5 degree location, Sun TV can now potentially overtake every other operator in the number of HD channels it can offer. Using current technology, a single transponder of 36 MHz is able to support around 8 full-HD channels.

Dish TV holds the distinction of having the highest number of HD channels in India. Using its 6 transponders on Asiasat-5, the DTH player offers close to 50 HD channels, while Videocon D2h and Airtel Digital TV, which are also aggressive on the HD channel front, offer about 30.

Tata Sky managed to somewhat overcome the lack of transponder capacity by replacing its MPEG-2 service with MPEG-4 by moving more and more channels to the higher compression technology.

Unfortunately for Tata Sky, the new satellite is coming up too far away from its existing satellite to be of much use. However, there is a chance that the government could move some of its existing traffic from GSAT-10 — which is located at Tata Sky’s home location — onto the new satellite. This would help ISRO fulfill its deal to provide extra capacity to Tata Sky on GSAT-10, which was launched in 2012.

Tata Sky is, without doubt, the operator most keen to get its hands on more transponders.

Though Reliance Digital TV too could have been a beneficiary if Sun Direct is to move back to Indian satellites, that is unlikely to happen as it would require an expense of around Rs 100 crore from Sun TV’s side to re-tune the SD-only dish antennas back to their original position.