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Indian DTH industry has a market of over 22 million and is expected to add another 10-11 million
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Few days before the World Cup finals between Spain and the Netherlands, football fans in parts of India found themselves unsure of whether they were going to be able to watch the clash of the Titans. The problem: a power supply failure in the communications satellite Insat -4B, meant that some Direct-To-Home (DTH) players like Sun Direct and DD Direct were unable to provide services to their viewers.

While Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists quickly swung into action to rectify the problem, it served as a quick reminder of how much businesses are dependant on satellites—be it in terms of satellite technology, data or imagery. In fact, it is estimated that almost 56% of the revenues of the Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the ISRO, in 2008-2009, came from the business of leasing out transponders for the video and telecommunication services.

The biggest user, undeniably, is the DTH industry, which already has a market of over 22 million homes in India and is expected to add another 10-11 million this year. According to Salil Kapoor, COO of Dish TV, “The entire business centers around renting or leasing out satellite space or transponders from ISRO or other international satellite agencies. The capacity of channels that we can offer will depend on availability of satellite space.” In practice, the channels are first uplinked from the DTH operator and sent in encrypted form to the satellite, which then beams them back to the dishes placed on rooftops, and is then decrypted by the set-top boxes in individual homes. While Dish TV, has about eleven 36.5 MHz transponders, Reliance BigTV, which uses a Malaysian satellite Measat-3, has about 8 transponders. According to industry sources, renting out a single transponder could mean spending a whopping Rs 5 crore per year.

Meanwhile, VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminals) armed with dish antennas, which are smaller than 3 meters, have proven to be popular for facilities as diverse as stock broking and telemedicine. The National Stock Exchange of India, for instance, is considered to be one of the pioneers in terms of large-scale use of VSATs networks in India, which allows for instantaneous trading to happen across terminals spread across different cities in India.

Recognising the potential of VSAT to provide connectivity to outlying areas and to bridge the gap of quality and access, private education providers have also seized the opportunity. Educomp Solutions, a leading education service provider in the country uses VSATs to create a Tele Education network whereby it provides coaching for both CA students as well as coaching for engineering entrance exams like the AIEEE and the IIT-JEE amongst others. The classes take the form of a videoconference like set-up with a large screen where students and teachers can see each other and interact.

According to Puneet Jhinghan, senior VP of IndiaCan Education, a joint venture between Educomp and Pearson, to provide vocational and professional education, “They decided to adopt this format, especially in case of the CA course since they realised that many students at advanced levels, particularly in outlying areas, were seen to migrate to bigger cities, where they spent a lot of time and money, and also found themselves in very large classes.” Using this system, on the contrary, allowed students stay in their own hometown, interact with faculty at lower costs. In fact, the company’s focus for the CA coaching is particularly on outlying and category C areas, be it Siliguri, Bharatpur or Jammu.
The use of VSATs for telemedicine, however, dates back to 1999, when the Apollo Group approached ISRO with the concept. In a pilot project, the first VSAT-enabled village hospital was launched in 2000 in a small village called Aragonda, 16km from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. According to Professor K Ganapathy, president of the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation, “ The ISRO was very proactive in this regard as they were also looking out for a socially relevant application of space technology. So much so that the ISRO provides the VSAT receiver free of cost and we give free consultation to anyone who approaches us through the ISRO mechanism.”

Currently, there are about 55 super-specialty hospitals and another 350 hospitals in peripheral areas, which are VSAT-enabled, thus making it possible for patients to consult with specialised doctors. While Apollo had also launched the concept of a Hospital on Wheels along with Philips who provided all the technology and ISRO, which gave a VSAT receiver on top of the van, they were faced by unforeseen problems such as the branches of trees, which dislodged the receiver. “However, since then ISRO has developed a smaller VSAT receiver which has been of use for many other hospitals too,” adds Dr Ganapathy.

Satellite imagery, provided by ISRO, has also been put to use in many companies, particularly to create mapping and navigation systems. MapmyIndia, a company that provides digital map data and consumer navigation services, has often created accurate GIS maps using base imagery provided by ISRO for its government projects. “Such maps for instance, have been used for urban planning, to understand how the city has spread, how utilities like electrical and water networks are distributed and also for taxation particularly in terms of property,” says Rohan Verma, director of MapmyIndia.

Data collected by the satellites has also proved to be of use in tracking and monitoring natural resources such as oil and gas and minerals and also in building up plans for disaster management. Says DK Pande, director-exploration at the state-owned ONGC, “ISRO images have been useful in geological mapping, in the identification of geomorphic structures and morpho-tectonic analysis, particularly in the North-East, which have been probed by drilling and found to be hydrocarbon bearing and particularly in the detection of offshore oil seepages which can be done be even common remote sensing sensors.” While the digital data/images are purchased on a project basis, the yearly expenditure is on average around Rs. 6 lakhs.

The Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority also obtains satellite- based applications from and through ISRO and the Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geo-Informatics in Gandhinagar for hazard mapping in cases such as—cyclone, earthquake, flood, tsunami and storm surge. With the help of 3D images that it receives through satellite mapping, GSDMA provides efficient data to government functionaries as well as to various industries to check any expected disaster. Using high-resolution images, GIS applications and web-deployed cadastral information, GSDMA has helped in saving lives and huge cost. “With such accurate data and images, we have helped many industries that are engaged in chemical, fishing, shipping & ports, oil & gas, and other infrastructure sectors that essentially requires such futuristic data,” says V Thiruppugazh, additional CEO of GSDMA.

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