Airtel Digital to launch Jio Gigafiber rival soon

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While it is no secret that Reliance Jio, India’s largest telecom operator by volume, is planning to introduce a new service that will combine on-demand TV, live TV, high-speed broadband, video conferencing, music and a host of other services, Bharti Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal indicated that his company too is about to launch such a service as well.

At present, Airtel offers something called Internet TV, but the box is no comparison to what Jio Gigafiber will be launching in terms of the sheer number of features.

Airtel’s Internet TV is essentially a different type of set-top-box with Android on it, and does not come with built-in internet connectivity.

Jio GigaFiber, on the other hand, will be a total package consisting of live TV, on-demand TV, video-on-demand, a music service, videoconferencing and high-speed broadband.

“One of the things we are looking at is to bring in a box which will offer a full, converged entertainment as well as the capacity to deliver broadband. This will happen soon, and we’re very excited that once we do that, then it’s a full converged way,” Vittal said today.

Airtel’s CEO, however, did not give any indication of when the company is likely to come to market with the product.

However, given that the information was volunteered by Vittal, rather than pried out by analysts through questions, the company is likely to be in the final stages of preparations for launching the same.

It is also seen as a pre-emptive move, ahead of Reliance Industries’ Aug 12 annual general meeting where Chairman Mukesh Ambani is widely expected to announce much-anticipated launch of GigaFiber services across the country.

Ambani had thrown open pre-registrations for GigaFiber in the annual general meeting last year.

So far, however, the company has not announced the tariffs, schemes or even product details under the GigaFiber platform.

This is because Ambani does not want rivals, including smaller broadband players and cable networks, to be able to offer anything similar when he comes to the market with his product. So far, Jio has been extremely successful in preventing any leaks about the new product.

Once the product hits the market, Jio’s aim will be to quickly sign up as many subscribers as possible before the competition has time to react and come up with something similar.

AIRTEL DIGITAL PLANS

Besides the box, Airtel Digital, the DTH arm of Bharti Airtel, is also in the final stages of launching ‘Xstream Smart Stick’ — a device similar to Amazon Fire Stick that is bundled with some of Tata Sky’s connections and plans.

Xstream also makes smart boxes, in addition to the stick, and may also be the provider of the converged box as well.

Smart sticks, such as Now TV Smart Stick, offer a comprehensive TV experience, popular TV channels.

However, the biggest drawback of the stick-based approach, including that of Tata Sky, has been the need to switch inputs (sources) on TV to move from live TV to video on demand and vice-versa.

However, some smart devices, particularly boxes, have the ability to ‘pass through’ the signal from a normal set-top-box, which does away with the need to change input sources on TV.

Airtel’s converged box, however, will come with a satellite tuner built-in, so that no other set-top-box is required to watch live TV.

Another big drawback for Airtel is its lack of fiber-to-the-home infrastructure, similar to what Jio has put in place over the last seven years. This restricts Airtel’s ability to copy Jio’s GigaFiber strategy outside the cities where it already has its broadband business up and running.

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