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Bharti Watches UTStarcom for IPTV

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
1/30/2006
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UTStarcom Inc. (Nasdaq: UTSI) has got its foot in the door at Bharti Tele-Ventures Ltd. , which has ambitious plans to become India’s first IPTV provider.

A spokesman for Bharti could only confirm the carrier has been “undertaking a trial in Gurgaon,” outside New Delhi, “for a while,” using the vendor's RollingStreams IPTV system, formerly known as mVision. (See UTStarcom Rolls With New IPTV Name.)

But according to an Indian media report, Bharti is planning to offer 100 channels and will deploy ADSL2 technology to provide network transmission capacity. The trial, which includes a digital headend and set-top boxes from UTStarcom, will reportedly take at least another six months then Bharti will begin offering commercial services in the New Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Haryana markets.

UTStarcom claims to have 40 carriers trialing the system, but has revealed only three so far -- SoftBank BB Corp. , SmartTel Communications , and China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA). (See UTStarcom Wins (Again) at Softbank BB, UTStarcom Wins IP TV Deal, and UTStarcom Sells IPTV to China.)

Bharti, which announced third-quarter results this week, had 17.53 million customers at the end of December, of which 1.2 million were fixed line and a fraction were broadband. (See Bharti Adds 2.26M Subscribers in Q3.) It plans to invest heavily in expanding its network and ramping up broadband subscriber numbers as it looks towards triple-play.

The demand is there for high-quality TV services in India, says Ravi Bhagavan, vice president at consultancy Galileo Global Advisors LLC . “My sense is that given the lack of improvements with the infrastructure of the cable operators, none of them being up to next-gen standards...[IPTV] could be a remarkable success story -- if operators can find a solution to the last mile problem.” That problem being India's lack of fixed-line infrastructure.

Bharti has some copper networks and fiber installed in the last mile, mostly in urban centers like New Delhi, but woefully low broadband penetration (0.01 percent) is a dilemma carriers are attempting to tackle with limited success so far. (See India Looks to WiMax for Broadband .)

Bharti is not the only telecom service provider in India with its eyes on the video market; Atlas Interactive has ordered IPTV equipment from ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763). (See ZTE Gives Indian Carrier Some Credit.) Reliance Communications Ltd. and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) (NYSE: VSL) are also mulling over the idea of IPTV and state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) are being pushed by the government to roll out services. They would be coming up against Tata Sky, a joint venture between Tata Group (owner of Tata Teleservices Ltd. ) and Rupert Murdoch's Star Group, which plans to launch digital satellite and interactive TV services in India by the middle of this year.

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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