The direct-to-mobile (D2M) technology, which would pave the way for streaming television and video content directly to mobile phones, without an internet connection, is expected to hit the devices of Indian smartphone users by next year, according to top government officials.
Once implemented, users will not only be able to stream video content whether it is live channels, sports etc, without having a SIM card on their phones, but also be able to get emergency alerts, public safety messages, social services, among other things, without needing to rely on the telecom networks. The technology will also be useful in providing education content to rural areas and bridging the digital divide in the country.
The government’s immediate plan is to start a pilot project of the D2M technology in 19 cities, with Tejas Networks-owned wireless communication and semiconductor solutions company Saankhya Labs.
“When we talk of the data consumption on the telecom networks, the video content is taking most of the data. If this can be offloaded to D2M or let’s say, 25-30% of it goes directly to the mobiles through the broadcasting network…it will reduce tremendous load on our 5G networks, 4G networks and address the issue of (network) clogging which takes place,” Apurva Chandra, secretary, information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry said on the sidelines of an industry event on Tuesday.
Abhay Karandikar, secretary, department of science and technology, said, “In the next year or so, we can actually launch this technology with an indigenously developed system.”
Karandikar has been involved in the development of D2M technology since he was the director at IIT Kanpur. “The technology is already matured. Some lab trials and field trials have been done. Now we have to do city-wise pilot trials so that its potential can be demonstrated,” he added.
Currently, the government along with Saankhya Labs and IIT Kanpur have been conducting trials of the technology in Noida and Bengaluru.
“We are going for a pilot, and during the pilot phase, there is no question of mandating it (D2M technology) for the entire country and even subsequently also. Let’s see how this technology works,” Chandra said.
Comments from Chandra assume significance as device manufacturers have expressed concerns that implementation of the D2M technology would increase the price of smartphones as it would require additional chips or dongles to be inserted in smartphones.
Saankhya Labs, which has designed the chips and dongles to implement the D2M solution in phones, expects the device prices not to be hit much with the integration of new chips in phones. “With large volumes, about 5-10 million, the chips will cost less than Rs 150, and the external dongles (USB DTV Receiver Dongle) would cost about Rs 500-700,” said Parag Naik, CEO of Saankhya Labs.
Naik said the company is in talks with mobile phone companies to configure this technology in the phones, by using Saankhya’s chipsets. Initially, the company will launch dongles in the market in the next six to eight that can be attached with the phones to receive the video content on phones.
For the trials of D2M, the government will utilise the digital terrestrial broadcasting infrastructure of Prasar Bharti. For that, the I&B secretary also called for reserving the entire 112 MHz spectrum in the band of 470-582 MHz to be reserved for D2M technology.
“If D2M is successful, then the (spectrum) requirement of IMT (international mobile telecommunications) itself will go down and we should actually assess this, if D2M is successful,” Chandra added.
In contradiction, telecom operators, represented by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on Monday said the spectrum should not be reserved for D2M, but should be auctioned in order to have a level-playing field.
During his address at the event, telecom secretary Neeraj Mittal also flagged concern regarding the revenues of the incumbent players and the device prices. Mittal, however, said, “This is also throwing a lot of opportunities for innovators and mobile manufacturers to come up with solutions, which ultimately will overcome the higher cost by providing better benefits.”
The government expects the D2M technology to find a market in India as currently there are 800 million smartphone users in the country and 69% of content accessed by these users is in the video format. Further, the D2M technology would also help the government reach nearly 80-90 million ‘TV Dark’ homes across the country. Of the 280 million households in the country, only 190 million have television sets, Chandra said.
According to the Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC), as of today, no mobile devices are available for any of these broadcasting technologies or standards anywhere. In fact, countries like the USA, Brazil, Mexico and Canada among others are running trials for D2M technology.
The DoT body also flagged challenges recently with regard to the availability of a handset ecosystem, scalability of D2M technology, business viability and opportunities and spectrum requirements. Financial Express