Kerala Cable TV Operators’ Association, the biggest organization of local cable operators in Kerala, will inaugurate its much-awaited voice calling service on Thursday, March 25.
This will make it possibly the first cable TV operators’ association in the entire country to diversify into voice services. It was one of the first to branch out into high-speed broadband services, and is one of the biggest internet service providers in Kerala today.
Cable TV Operators’ Association of Kerala works through various city-level units, all of which offer their services under the mother brand of Kerala Vision with local prefixes, such as Thrissur Cable Vision.
The parent organization is in charge of deciding the state-wide tariffs as well as statewide marketing and advertising campaigns. However, actual operations and other business decisions are handled by the local unit.
The association claims that its members have around 3.1 million cable connections. Given that Kerala is estimated to have around 10 million television sets, that would give Kerala Vision a market share of around 30%.
The association was borne out of the need for small and independent cable operators to withstand competition from Asianet SatCom, a well-capitalized, pan-Kerala cable operator.
Years later, when the association saw that Asianet was using relatively cheap cable broadband offers to lure customers, it too decided to jump on the high-speed internet bandwagon, and started rolling out the service in 2017.
The association has been aggressive in packaging and marketing its products, and tariffs start at Rs 200 for 60 GB/month under an annual plan.
However, Kerala Vision is coming under increasing competition from telecom operators — particularly India’s largest telecom operator Reliance Jio, which has identified Kerala as one of its key markets.
Moreover, members of the association are set to lose the biggest advantage that they enjoyed so far — an extensive presence in every nook and cranny of the state, including a fiber network that stretches for “lakhs of kilometers”.
They stand to lose this advantage because Kerala State Electricity Board is fiberizing almost its entire overhead distribution network under a project known as KFON, or Kerala Fiber optic Network.
KFON fiber connectivity is almost ready in certain districts, such as Kannur, and over the next two years, is expected to overtake that of Kerala Vision in terms of its reach and capacity.
Starting later this year, the KFON network will be opened up to any ISP who wants to access customers in Kerala.
This will help players like Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio, ACT Fiber, BSNL and others to reach millions of customers at negligible capital cost.
Because of this, it will be possible for a telecom operator to provide high-speed internet services all across Kerala by setting up just one network operations center somewhere in the state to connect with the KFON network.
KFON will charge a monthly rental or revenue share from these telecom operators in return for helping connect them to their customers on its fiber network.
The current launch of Kerala Vision voice services — under an MVNO license from BSNL — is aimed at rounding out its portfolio of services.
While the network currently offers internet, cable TV and IPTV, it does not offer customers the ability to make voice calls to other mobile and landline numbers. On the other hand, Jio and other telecom operators will offer IPTV, voice as well as broadband.
With the launch of the voice service from this week, that gap will also be filled.
Currently, the arrangement is to route voice calls via BSNL’s telecom network, and to allocate phone numbers to Kerala Vision customers from BSNL’s numbering resources.
Given that it is an MVNO or virtual operator service, it is likely that the phone numbers given will be from BSNL’s mobile number series.
It is not known whether Kerala Vision will also offer app-based calling, or whether it will be limited to physical landphones.
BSNL has in place an app-based calling service for its own customers, known as WINGS, which allows users to make calls to any phone from any smartphone without using a BSNL SIM.
However, the Cable Operators’ Association said its voice product will combine the features of both mobile phones and landline phones.
Whether or not there is a mobile calling app, the new service will certainly support landphones.
Nearly all of Kerala Vision fiber customers have ‘modems’ that have a voice port. They will be able to connect a normal landline phone to this port to make and receive unlimited phone calls.
Kerala Cable Operators’ Association said the new service will be a boon to customers who are troubled by poor mobile connectivity.
It also claimed that it will become the first South-India-based provider of all connectivity services — cable TV, IPTV, broadband and voice — with this launch.