GTPL Hathway, one of India’s top five wired broadband providers, said it will start distributing its high-speed broadband service through local cable operators in the next two months.
The company, whose broadband service is currently restricted to towns and cities, will also make the service available in thousands of gram panchayats across Gujarat by leveraging government’s optical fiber backbone in the coming months.
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At present, GTPL Hathway has 6.35 lakh high-speed broadband subscribers, out of which around 2.35 lakh were added over the last one year alone.
However, with competition from associate firm Reliance Jio heating up, GTPL seems to have decided that it needs to cover the remaining distance faster, and that the best way to accelerate its roll out was to bring local cable operators on board as partners. This will help GTPL use their local expertise, customer relationships and financial muscle to supercharge its broadband expansion.
Anirudhsinh Jadeja, founder and MD, said the company is fully ready to do so: “The backend is ready, and the roll-out will start in the first quarter”.
GTPL is not the only operator to try to leverage the local cable operators to grow its wired internet service.
State-owned companies such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and RailTel have been pioneers in this business, and provide high-speed connectivity to lakhs of subscribers using the last mile infrastructure provided by local cable operators.
Private sector telecom operator Bharti Airtel too, last year, started tapping local cable players to act as last-mile providers for its broadband service — recognizing that this method could help it grow many times faster than trying to do the last mile in-house like Jio.
The collaborative approach also throws a lifeline to lakhs of people employed in the cable TV sector in India. Without broadband, the cable TV industry was looking at slow decline as consumers are increasingly switching from linear TV and to on-demand media for their entertainment needs.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has added ‘pull’ to the ‘push’ as many households are now desperately searching for reliable and affordable ways to connect their children to their school’s e-learning platforms.
Separately, companies like GTPL Hathway are also starting to leverage various state governments’ fiber optic backbones set up over the last several years.
In case of GTPL, the company is eyeing the fiber backbone created by the Gujarat government, for which GTPL was one of the implementation agencies.
Jadeja said the backbone — which is around 95-98% ready — will be available in 3,700 gram panchayats and can be leveraged to take its internet service to the villages.
“We have a presence in around 90% of those gram panchayats via our CATV business. We just have to start the broadband business in those areas, which we are going to do in FY22,” he said.
He pointed out that the last mile networks of cable operators have to be upgraded if they are to support the delivery of high-speed broadband. “That project we have already started by upgrading infrastructure in various places, and very soon, we are going to start the rural broadband business.”
GTPL Hathway spent around Rs 174 crore in the year-ended March for expanding its broadband service, and expects to spend another Rs 225-230 cr in the current financial year on the broadband business.
Part of the reason for the frenetic expansion has to do with Reliance Jio, which is adding around 8,000-9000 new wired broadband users every month in Gujarat, which also happens to be GTPL’s primary broadband market.
For comparison, GTPL has been adding 15,000-20,000 new high-speed broadband users per month through last year, and needs to at least maintain that pace, if not exceed it.
Jio’s offerings are priced aggressively, and GTPL Hathway is eager to protect its turf, despite the fact that Jio is an indirect shareholder in GTPL Hathway via its acquisition of Hathway Datacom.
For now, the company maintains that Jio is not a competitor.
“Right now, there’s no such atmosphere of competition. Majorly, their market has been in Ahmedabad, Baroda and Surat in Gujarat. GTPL is in almost 100 towns in Gujarat, and in these places, our primary competitor is BSNL. There are no other competitors,” said Jadeja.
However, to truly compete with Jio, the company would need to add internet and video-on-demand support to its set-top boxes. However, GTPL’s Android set-top-box launch has been delayed by a year after its suppliers failed to stick to their production schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Jadeja said such problems are in the rear-view mirror, and he expects the Android box launch to take place next month or in June.