May 2017



DAS Phases 3 & 4 have concluded with almost 50 million Analog TV homes not yet having switched to digital CATV or DTH.

These homes may continue to be served by tiny, village level (illegal) Analog cable TV networks which will probably deliver only Free-To-Air (FTA) channels.

Alternately, these rural TV homes with a low capacity to pay for their entertainment, are most likely to buy a personal Ku dish and receive a larger number of FTA channels from DD FreeDish from the GSAT-15 Satellite located at 93.5 degrees East or the newer and lesser publicised FTA KU Band transmissions from the ABS-2 satellite.


Doordarshan's FTA DTH platform- Free Dish has been gaining substantial viewership over the past year. FTA channel broadcasters are outbidding each other to scramble onto the FreeDish platform that currently claims a reach of 20 million TV homes. This is of course a larger viewership than any other Indian DTH platform. Channel slots for one year's carriage fees on Free Dish currently fetch almost ` 6 crores. Given the fact that Free Dish carries over 15 MPEG-2 channels on most of its transponders, it yields Doordarshan a handsome profit of over 1500% on the low transponder price that it pays to ISRO!

Free Dish has emerged as Doordarshan's most profitable operation and clearly MiB & Prasar Bharati are doing all they can to protect their commercial interests.

FreeDish Makes A 1500% Profit On Channel Carriage Fees


FreeDish was launched in December 2004. FreeDish currently downlinks 80 FTA MPEG-2 channels from 5 Ku Band transponders.

A sixth transponder has been recently pressed into service currently delivering additional MPEG-4 encrypted channels. Doordarshan has promised a total of 150 Free Dish channels (80 FTA MPEG-2 + 70 MPEG-4 iCAS encrypted) channels within the next few months, and 250 channels in a couple of years.


There has been a controversy created about the broadcasts by ABS Ltd, a satellite operator headquartered in Bermuda and their Ku broadcasts over India. ABS operate a fleet of satellites besides offering end-to-end solutions including DTH, cable TV distribution, cellular backhaul, VSAT and internet backbone services.

There are 2 ABS satellites located at 75 degrees East. The old ABS-2 satellite is currently in use even though the new, colocated ABS-2A, was declared operational on 21st January 2017. The ABS-2 serves South Asia, South East Asia, Russia, Africa and MENA regions. Its South Asia beam (Figure-1) provides excellent DTH signal strength ranging from 41 dBW to 55dBW.


ABS @ 75 degrees hosts the following 2 International Pay DTH platforms.

♦ Nepal's HUMRO TV which uses Gospell encryption and delivers pay DTH channels exclusively for viewers in Nepal.

♦ REAL VU - Bangladesh offers 112 SD and HD channels using Exset's encryption system, delivering Pay DTH services for viewers in Bangladesh.

95 Ku Band FTA Channels Are Available On ABS-2


ABS claims that in order to supplement the Real VU and Humro TV DTH platforms, they also provide a downlink of 95 other KU Band Free-To-Air channels, which are not necessarily part of these two DTH platforms. These include SD & HD channels. ABS do not refer to this FTA downlink, as a DTH service. They claim it to be merely Ku Band channel downlink, similar to several hundred other TV channels downlinked in the C-Band, by a multitude of satellites over India.

ABS-2 provides these 95 FTA channels as a bonus service to all consumers on the Real VU (Bangladseh) and Humro TV (Nepal) DTH platforms.

The ABS-2 KU Band footprint is shown in Fig 1 and covers India with a strong signal strength. Hence any Indian household can receive 95 KU Band FTA Channels, free from the ABS-2 satellite.

Clearly, as of now, the ABS-2 platform offers more FTA channels than Free Dish (See Table 1) and has emerged as a potential threat to Doordarshan's cash cow: Free Dish.

Obviously, since ABS claims not to be servicing viewers in India, it has not applied for a DTH license to the MiB in India.


In a surprising statement, I&B Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore told the Lok Sabha in a written reply, that keeping in view "national security", the MIB has asked the Department of Space (DoS) to block ABS signals beaming into India without licence from the ministry. ABS is running a free DTH platform on the lines of Doordarshan's FreeDish, he claimed.

Some industry observers see the move as a veiled attempt to protect FreeDish's commercial interest and monopoly.

It is also difficult to enforce a blockage or jamming of the signals from the satellite, since that would directly affect the viewership of channels enjoyed by subscribers of the two legitimate DTH platforms on this satellite.

Besides it is very expensive and may end up being an exercise in futility!


ABS had clarified that they do not sell any Set Top Box in India, it does not advertise or promote its services in India.

ABS sources insist that they do not provide any DTH services for India, and hence do not require a DTH license from India; that they offer licensed DTH platforms only for Bangladesh & Nepal and that the Ku Band FTA channels are "contribution services to these 2 DTH service providers to enhance their service offerings".

ABS states "As a result of the service offerings in Nepal and Bangladesh, there is the natural spill over of these contribution services into India that is being watched by the Indian viewers as it has a mix of regional content."

Currently there are more than 20 satellites broadcasting over the Indian skies which beam channels into India and viewers are able to watch them with a STB and dish antenna. The matter is no different for ABS-2, claims the satellite operator.


ABS sources further explained that the issue of natural spill over of signals into neighbouring countries that are outside the service area of the countries offering services, but falling within the coverage area of the satellite, has been reviewed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) who has been concluded that such a spill over is in full compliance with the ITU RR Provisions. India is also part of the ITU.

Consequently, ABS deny any violation.


FreeDish is likely to receive a large number of Analog Cable TV viewers who have refused to spend the extra money required to receive encrypted Cable TV or DTH signals.

FreeDish's move to shift all future channels to an encrypted MPEG-4 downlink, will add to the cost of future FreeDish receivers and could inhibit low income homes from considering this option.

At this critical transition time frame, ABS-2 provides an attractive option to receive 95 Indian channels using the low cost, MPEG-2 Free-to-Air satellite receiver and dish antenna. Consumers may even be tempted to re-align their existing FreeDish antenna to the ABS-2 Satellite at 75 degrees East and view an even larger number of channels, immediately. n