Wiring up Kerala

“We will be launching the dialup service and Net telephony in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi this month,” says Praveen Shrikhande, vice-president. However, he declines to specify the outlay planned for the expansion programmes. The dialup service will give the company a presence in the narrowband Net access.

The company is also expanding its cable ISP business to other towns like Thrissur, Kozhikode, Kottayam and Kollam over the next six months. Asianet Satellite has signed a right-of-way deal (licence to use the electricity poles to string cables) with the Kerala State Electricity Board. According to Shrikhande, the company has 3,300 cable Internet subscribers in two cities — Thiruvananthapuram (2,000 subscribers) and Kochi (1,300).

Promoted by former Doordarsan newsreader Sashi Kumar for cable TV operations, Asianet Satellite in 1995 became a joint venture outfit with the Rajan Raheja group’s Hathway Investments, picking up 50-per cent stake for Rs 35 crore. Subsequently, the Rahejas bought out the remaining stake for an undisclosed sum.

Today the company is one of the largest private investors in Kerala with a total investment of Rs 350 crore. The company’s infrastructure includes around 50 earth stations, and over 40,000 kms of hybrid fibre coaxial cable network. While the primary revenue generator for the cable ISP business is the monthly subscription, the company also offers other services like web-hosting for corporates.

According to Shrikhande, the company is targeting all the three market segments, viz homes, small offices and business establishments for its Internet access business. The company averages Rs 900 per month and Rs 5,000 per month as revenue per home and corporate subscriber, respectively.

Like other southern markets, Asianet Satellite finds higher growth in the home segment. Though the competition is increasing with Sify planning to roll out wireless broadband and Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) also offering digital subscriber line (DSL) broadband, Shrikhande is not perturbed.