Airtel replaces Worldspace in India
Chris Forrester

Worldspace’s India service went dark on Dec 31. Now telco giant Bharti-backed Airtel’s DTH service is pumping in a 10-channel radio service for subscribers.

It is understood that about 400,000 homes were subscribing to Worldspace India, more than half via Airtel. The new transmissions come from State-backed All-India Radio. The stations available are: FM Gold, FM Rainbow, AIR Punjabi, FM Rainbow-Bangalore, AIR Tamil, AIR Ragam, AIR Telugu, AIR Bengali, AIR Gujarati and AIR Urdu.

Worldspace’s closure in India has undoubtedly muddied the waters as far as any other international supplier is concerned. While an e-mail last week to all Worldspace subscribers blamed the shut down on funding issues, the reality could be that India’s very own restrictions on foreign ownership could be to blame. Worldspace has been operating in India since 2000 on an informal licence pending the authorities issuing a regulated licence to operate. This new licence – still not issued – would have covered terrestrial re-transmission across the whole country via a network of repeaters.

Local reports say that Worldspace might re-emerge, refinanced in some fashion and indigenous India businessmen are also said to be interested in the operation. However, given that the Worldspace ‘AfriStar’ and ‘AsiaStar’ satellites also need to be replaced sooner than later anyone taking the operation over would need very deep pockets.

Other local reports, and direct communications to us, paint a bleak picture of waste and professional incompetence at Worldspace India, with users citing poor (or non-existent) service and missed opportunities. One informed blogger asked a rhetorical question of his readers, saying ‘Who killed Worldspace India?, and answering ‘Mr Noah Samara... are you listening?’