India facing 37% shortfall in DTH spectrum – I&B ministry

DTH transponders in India (not up-to-date)

India has a total registered demand of 175 satellite transponders for DTH services, but only 111 transponders are currently available, Rajyavardhan Rathore, junior minister for information and broadcasting said, adding that efforst are on to rectify the situation.

Satellite transponders refer to the terminals on satellites that emit TV signals that are captured by dish antennas at user premises.

Each transponder uses about 36 MHz of spectrum, even though there are some satellites that offer 54 MHz transponders as well. However, for calculation purposes, two 54 MHz transponders are counted as three (36 MHz) transponders.

A single 36 Mhz transponder can transmit about 40 standard-definition channels in decent quality, though some DTH players cram as many as 55 channels on a single transponder by lowering the picture quality. Similarly, a single 36 MHz transponder can carry about 14 Full HD channels in the MPEG-4 format and 20 in the HEVC format (currently used only by Sun Direct).

As such, a single DTH operator in India requires about 15-17 transponders, depending on the number of channels they wish to carry, but some are making do with  as few as 10 or 12.

Rathore said existing DTH players in the country, such as Airtel Digital, Sun Direct, Tata Sky and Dish TV Videocon, have registered an immediate demand for 64 transponders to supplement the 111 they are using at present.

Out of the 111, 42 transponders have been allocated on Indian satellites and 69 on foreign satellites, the minister added. All purchase orders for satellite transponders have to be routed through Antrix Corp, a government of India company, which then secures the transponders from Indian or foreign satellites, depending on availability.

India, which prides itself as a space power, was supposed to be self-sufficient in its satellite capacity, but a series of delays in satellite launches have resulted in a severe shortage.

To make matters worse, when India fails to send a satellite to its allotted location within the given time-frame, the slot is reallocated to foreign companies from other countries by the International Telecommunications Union.

Things could get worse as HD channels are upgraded to 4K in coming years. Each frame in a 4K video contains 8 mln dots against 2 mln in a full-HD video. As such, 4K transmission requires almost 4 times as much spectrum as full-HD transmission.

Nevertheless, said Rathore, the country expects to be self-sufficient in DTH satellite capacity in three years.

“Over a period of next three years, adequate capacity would be added through Indian satellites to facilitate migration of foreign capacity to Indian capacity,” he promised.

Driving demand for satellite spectrum is the upgrade of regular channels to high definition. From about 3 HD channels in 2010, India had 83 as of the end of 2017, Rathore added.

At present, the highest number of satellite transponders is with Dish TV Videocon and Tata Sky.

Tata Sky, with around 20 transponders, has the highest number of channels in India and offers around 76 HD channels and 475 standard definition offerings.