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Friday, Jul 04, 2003

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Insats in hot race with foreign rivals

Madhumathi D.S.


IS the new national satellite Insat 3A — along with its siblings — giving foreign commercial satellites over India a run for their money?

So it seems. The Department of Space, which can now market its Insat system capacity among private customers, thanks to a policy shift, has signed up 17 of them on the new bird. They include a handful of the broadcast channels that have migrated from the half a dozen foreign birds that beam into the country. And many more are about to join or waiting for their licence from the Ministry of I&B, according to key ISRO officials.

Insat 3A, which became operational over a month ago, is meant to be a predominantly broadcasters' bird. DoS says the satellite is fully booked except for four reserve transponders. And it is undoubtedly relishing the business of Insats (that includes 3A, 3C, the upcoming 3E and beyond), grossing at least Rs 40 crore from broadcasters and having a matching experience with the VSATs.

Meanwhile, the race for the sub-continent's skies is hotting up; for suddenly, "Some of our competitors, too, have started looking at us — which was not the case two years ago — and coming to us with various propositions" such as co-marketing of their idle capacity among Indian users, they told Business Line.

Hovering over the country are foreign commercial satellites such as New Skies Satellite, Thaicom-3, Panamsat with three satellites, Intelsat, Asiasat, Apstar and GE Americom. The ISRO under the DoS has itself leased some capacity on Thaicom-3 and GE.

For now, the Insats are apparently turning out to be a big hit among the private broadcasters, largely due to user-friendly pricing and terms. Insat 3A alone has customers such as Agrani, which has leased 3 C band transponders for head-end service and four on the Ku for DTH. There are also the Punjabi Lashkara, Gurjari and Channel Guide, besides five DD regional channels. Sahara Samay and NDTV have also signed up for another Insat bird, 3C.

VSAT operator HCL Comnet and public sector BPCL have each taken a Ku band transponder.

"The users are very buoyant. Insat pricing is 20 per cent lower and in rupee payment. There is no annual advance or bank guarantee that the foreign satellites would require. We have offered early bird incentives, in some cases accepted monthly payments instead of the preferred quarterly mode and an exit option after three months," they said.

Already, customers are queuing up for 3E, slated for launch around August 28. Space TV, Star's DTH venture, has signed up for the next generation 4A. Shortly, DoS expects to surrender three of the 10 Thaicom transponders it leased a few years ago and the rest when Insat 3E is ready.

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