What is Direct to Mobile technology?
The Indian government is experimenting with Direct to Mobile (D2M) technology which will allow users to download media content directly to mobile phones without an active internet connection. Using this native technology, the GoI wants to deliver information directly to citizens, counter fake news, issue emergency alerts and help with disaster management.
According to a Deloitte study, India had 1.2 billion mobile subscribers in 2021, including about 750 million smartphone users. Further, the report states that the demand for smartphones in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6%. By 2026, India is expected to have 1 billion smartphone users. The growth in the number of smartphone users will be fueled by 5G technology and its rapid adoption in rural areas.
Thus, the Department of Technology (DoT) is conducting a feasibility study of a spectrum band to offer broadcast services directly to users’ smartphones.
Last year, public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati also announced a collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur to test the feasibility of D2M technology.
Earlier this month, IIT Kanpur organized a conclave with the support of Prasar Bharati and TSDSI (Telecommunications Standards Development Society, India) on “Direct-to-Mobile & 5G Broadband – Convergence Roadmap for India” in New Delhi.
What is D2M technology?
The concept of D2M technology is very similar to FM radio, where a receiver inside the device can harness radio frequencies. The technology is a combination of broadband and broadcast, using which mobile phones can pick up territorial digital television signals. Using D2M, media content can be streamed directly to phones.
“It is an indigenous technology ‘Made in India’, and it is the first of its kind in the world. D2M will revolutionize content delivery, especially video content. Today, consumers watch videos on their phones; most things are consumed on phones, and with D2M technology, they could receive video content without having to pay for data plans,” Parag Naik, CEO of Saankhya Labs, told Prachar Bharati News Services.
The 526-582 MHz band is envisaged to operate in coordination with mobile and broadcast services. “The DoT has set up a committee to study this group,” said K Rajaraman, secretary of the DoT, during a speech at a conclave organized by IIT Kanpur.
Currently, the 526-582 MHz band is used by Prachar Bharati (DD) or Terrestrial TV Broadcasting. Many analog, digital-ready, and digital terrestrial television transmitters operate in the band.
How is it useful?
The government is backing the technology in a big way, as it can be used to send citizen-focused information directly, even to those without internet access.
The cable and DTH sectors will be hugely affected if the technology takes off. Indeed, this will involve broadcasting coming directly to consumers’ homes without the need for an intermediary, and this will be a very big change, according to the Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), Apurva Chandra.
The technology will also have benefits for businesses. It will allow telcos and Internet service providers to offload video traffic from their mobile network to the broadcast network, helping them decongest valuable mobile spectrum. Offloading video traffic means it will improve mobile spectrum utilization. At the same time, it will free up bandwidth, which will directly lead to reduced call drops and increased data speeds. According to Statista, India has around 622 million active internet users in 2020. Another report revealed that monthly data consumption in India reached 17 GB per user in 2021.
From a consumer perspective, smartphone users can access multimedia content from Video on Demand (VoD) or Over The Top (OTT) content platforms without draining their mobile data. This will help consumers reduce their data spending. According to a report by EY, OTT users in India are also expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
Moreover, most of the Indian population still lives in rural areas where Internet access is scarce and far between. D2M will solve this problem for users in such places with limited or no internet access, they will still be able to watch video content.
Also, the technology could be extremely useful for schools and colleges, especially in remote areas with poor internet connectivity. It will help students in these areas to access quality educational content.
Farmers could also access information on agricultural and irrigation practices or weather forecasts based on which they can plan their crops.
The DoT is currently conducting a feasibility study. The technology is still at a nascent stage. The biggest challenge for the government is to involve different stakeholders, including telecom operators, in launching D2M technology at scale. To involve different stakeholders, the government needs to develop an attractive proposition for them or policy reforms for the technology to thrive.
To launch the technology at scale, the government must also overcome infrastructural challenges. Making the technology available in every corner of the country is not going to be easy.