On the ISP side, GTPL witnessed a huge surge in the demand. This demand was mainly attributable to the newer concepts of Work from Home, Learn from Home, Remote e-learning, etc.

We were very aggressive in spreading our reach to newer markets: Piyush Pankaj, GTPL Hathway

GTPL Hathway Limited, one of India’s largest Multi System Operator (MSO), is engaged in the business of Cable TV and high-speed broadband service distribution mainly in Gujarat.

Recently, GTPL posted its financial results for the second quarter and half year ended September 30, 2020. The highlight of GTPL’s H1 FY21 performance was its strong profitability, debt reduction, geographical expansion, and robust operational performance.

To know more about this performance score and its future plans, Voice&Data interacted with Piyush Pankaj, Head – CATV Business & Chief Strategy Officer of GTPL Hathway.

Few excerpts:

Voice&Data (V&D): To begin with, can you outline how GTPL Hathway has progressed in its business in the last quarter? What has caused an increase in momentum?

Piyush Pankaj: The last two quarters have been very testing for the entire world. Globally, with the lockdowns being announced by the governments, the momentum of growth stalled and came to a standstill.

Within the MSO & Wireline Broadband industry as well, the times were tough. All of us faced growing demand for Broadband consumption and TV viewership saw an unprecedented high during the lockdown. GTPL in particular is not an exception.

With Unlock coming in play by June-20, the expectations too got raised. There was a sudden pressure within the system to gear-up and gain the momentum to make up for the bad times all of us faced.

In the last quarter of unlock, GTPL managed to further shore up the demand for TV viewership and ISP services and tapped the new territories, and gained additional customer base in the market.

GTPL services were never ever shut during the entire period of lockdown. Our meticulous employees were on their toes throughout to ensure uninterrupted services to our customers come what may. This attitude of ours made our customers believe more in us. We could capitalize on this trust and loyalty of our customers and sail the turbulent tides of lockdown.

In the last quarter of unlock, GTPL managed to further shore up the demand for TV viewership and ISP services and tapped the new territories, and gained an additional customer base in the market. The increase in the broadband customer base is purely accountable to the pragmatic shift in the consumption of ISP services. The aggressive planning & robust implementation of policies have reaped the benefits in form of the overall growth for the company.

V&D: How did the lockdown days boost business and what were the major trends observed during and after lockdown?

Piyush Pankaj: Of course, the lockdown was a boom period for both Cable TV and ISP services.

As with the CATV part, TV viewership was at its peak, though there were no new shows being telecast. The Bhismapitamah of TV, Doordashan stepped in and opened up the box with its golden and evergreen shows, to maintain and increase the connectivity with the customers. Yes, we observed, a cord-cutting in the enterprise customer segment and second TV connections. However, GTPL could sustain its active customer base at 7.85 Mn with new schemes being launched to lure customers.

On the ISP side, GTPL witnessed a huge surge in the demand. This demand was mainly attributable to the newer concepts of Work from Home, Learn from Home, Remote e-learning, etc.

With the adoption of WFH concept predominantly during the lockdown, the nation has seen a shift from data consumption towards Broadband. This phenomenon continued in the last quarter and we managed to add 80,000 new customers to our kitty.

GTPL’s per customer GB consumption too saw its all-time high, touching 195 GB per month, per customer, during the last quarter.

The average data consumption during the current financial year has grown by more than 55% on y-o-y basis. Also, the Broadband average revenue per user (ARPU) for Q2 FY21 was at ₹430, up 4% y-o-y.

We have already provided digital modes of payment options to our customers for them to continue uninterrupted services and renew their services past one and a half years. This gave us an extra edge during the lockdown and further firmed up the grip during the unlock. Our customers and the business partners made up to almost 75% of the collections being channeled through digital modes.

V&D: GTPL Hathway’s subscriber numbers have grown at a good rate. What made this number to grow? What efforts did the company take to ensure this growth in subscriber numbers?

Piyush Pankaj: The rising demand for broadband and CATV connections during the lockdown and unlock has helped us to pour in our best to deliver and gain the leadership position, in our key markets.

We were aggressive in spreading our reach to the newer markets & expanding our market share in the existing markets.

On the CATV front, our business partners and our ground team were well equipped and aligned to maintain the momentum to cater to the market demands. It is with their zealous efforts that we stand tall today at Q2 with 7.85 Mn active customer base across India and also managed to enter Tripura, with most of the planning being done during Q1.

On the Broadband front, we have been always mentioning of our strong presence in Gujarat and capacity building in this market. We have 3.72 Mn broadband homepass and this perseverance has reaped us results in terms of mitigating the demand and activate as many as 80,000 customers in a single quarter, or almost 1,30,000 customers during H1, the period of lockdown.

The growth story of the company is aligned with the company’s plan & business strategy.

The incremental demand is more specifically attributable to the customers to enable e-learning, WFH, Digital Payments, Entertainment, etc.

V&D: Ever since the lockdown was announced consumption of the internet has spiked. Can you share numbers related to the growth?

Piyush Pankaj: Yes, there has been a sudden spike in the data consumption trends with the onset of lockdown.

GTPL observed a total data consumption of ~558 Mn GB during the last 6 months. This boom, as known to all of us, is due to the unification of the digital functionalities with the physical world leading to the generation of a phygital life.

It is no exaggeration to state that internet connectivity is akin to the blood life of modern-day institutions and its employees.

The world has evolved to integrate every aspect of life with the Internet from connecting the entire world to individualized Infotainment the new-age entertainment coupled with knowledge.

It is no exaggeration to state that internet connectivity is akin to the blood life of modern-day institutions and its employees. The lockdown further penetrated this blood life to other sectors of society like e-learning, schools, OTT platforms, digital payments, etc. Each & every individual now yearns for data, be it for their professional necessity or personal luxury.

GTPL has now close to 31% FTTX customers with 1,60,000 customers of the total 5,35,000.

At this pace, GTPL also managed to gain 6th position in the Private Wireline Broadband segment in India and a leading ISP in Gujarat, offering High Speed and Truly Unlimited Data.

Even during the period of lockdown, GTPL continued its efforts to match up the demand and set-up ~4,00,000 Homepass during H1.

V&D: How did GTPL Hathway design its plan package to reach out to more consumers?

Piyush Pankaj: That’s something attributable to GTPL’s ability to connect to the nerves of its customers and be able to devise, design, and deliver.

GTPL is one of the pioneer ISPs to offer ‘Sach mein Unlimited’ plans with a speed of up to 100 Mbps. We have been able to capitalize on this strategy, and more than 99% of our subscriber base in this unlimited category glorifies this.

GTPL also takes pride to introduce the first-ever regional language packages in the CATV segment as an MSO.

GTPL also takes pride to introduce the first-ever regional language packages in the CATV segment as an MSO. We also are one of the pioneers in launching the direct customer touch in partnership with our LCOs to Winback the CATV customers under the flagship campaign of ‘Manoranjan Dhamaka’.

Our ability to better negotiate for the costs, have helped us price our offerings at very competitive rates, without any parallel compromise in our deliverables. Not to mention, our customer services, in terms of TAT is also commendable with the majority of the customer complaints being addressed with the defined TAT of TRAI Regulations.

V&D: How must TRAI support broadband internet service providers to enable better business outcomes?

Piyush Pankaj: The role of any Regulator for effective monitoring and developing any LoB is key to the success of the industry and the players therein. TRAI has been instrumental in regularly coming out with necessary updates in the Regulations, both for Wireline and Wireless Telco Business.

As a custodian to protect customer rights, TRAI has always been a front runner.

We expect more involvement of TRAI into industry-wide issues (like that of AGR) to bring in the required amount of clarity to the stakeholders at all levels.

Setting up of necessary clearances with the local bodies for players like us for seamless rolling of homepass and conversions therefrom can also be on cards.

V&D: Offering play boxes and OTT services is preferred by many subscribers. What is your opinion on OTT consumption in India and how do you think OTT services drive broadband business?

Piyush Pankaj: OTT is a new and recent wing of entertainment. OTT services is the modern way of enjoying entertainment content viz., movies, series, sports, live events, etc.

OTT services have grown exponentially in the last couple of years. With Netflix and Amazon Prime taking the front lead with their original content, the OTT industry has now more than 20 OTT players and almost all the broadcasters have their presence in the OTT segment.

Such a high demand and inclination towards a futuristic platform in its infancy stage, makes OTT services being hunted upon by many to bring it under its purview by all the DPOs.

Telco’s like Airtel, Vodafone, Jio, etc. have already been acting as a distribution platform for providing OTT services. As we speak, DTH players have already introduced android STBs with OTT services with all the OTT players available on their platform.

Such high demand and inclination towards a futuristic platform in its infancy stage makes OTT services being hunted upon by many to bring it under its purview by all the DPOs.

The OTT players have been streaming FHD and 4K resolution content now. Such content when streamed over mobile data, at times, turn out to be slow and it buffers while viewing. A wireline broadband service clearly comes out as a winner in this situation, with consistent speed & quality and no issue in viewing the content.

Partnering with the OTT players, and offering a bundled product with Broadband to the end customers maybe call of the day. It is too premature a stage to further comment on this hitherto unexplored arena.

V&D: Hybrid box is a new concept launch planned by GTPL. What is this box? What is its USP? And how does the company plan to attract new subscribers?

Piyush Pankaj: GTPL Hybrid STB is our Play Box. These STBs will have OTT services embedded and would work on the android platform.

Customers now have a choice to upgrade their TV with the new age Smart TV functions with only select OTT Apps embedded into it, or to upgrade their STB to GTPL Hybrid and enjoy an unparalleled viewing experience with the conventional CATV and new age OTT Apps.

To put this straight, our Hybrid STBs are capable of converting a non-Smart TV to Smart TV viewing. Of course, as any Hybrid STB would require, one has to have a broadband connectivity for enjoying the OTT services.

As GTPL offers both CATV and Broadband services it is a clear win-win situation to offer an appropriate bundled innovative product to our customers and monetize the rising demand for BB and OTT.

V&D: How successful is the company in taking broadband to tier II and tier III cities?

Piyush Pankaj: GTPL has a strong presence of CATV in all the states where we operate in. Our customer base is deep routed spread across the length and width of the geographies.

Further, GTPL has also been building up and further strengthening its fiber network across its presence, enabling it to meet up the newer demands created in Tier-II & III cities. We are already providing our broadband services with a speed of up to 20 Mbps in these cities and plan to further deepen our presence.

GTPL through the EPC project for Phase II in Gujarat, will connect 3700+ Gram Panchayats and hence, will also have access to the Broadband connectivity to these villages.

The partnership between GTPL and LCOs has been a desirable approach with the necessary technology and infrastructure being provided by GTPL and LCOs catering to customer acquisition and renewals.

GTPL has been partnering with the LCOs to offer broadband to tier II and III cities. These partnerships are now earning us the customers. The partnership between GTPL and LCOs has been a desirable approach with the necessary technology and infrastructure being provided by GTPL and LCOs catering to customer acquisition and renewals.

V&D: Going forward, what are the company’s plans in terms of hiring, financials, capacity expansion, and other business endeavors?

Piyush Pankaj: With the current pace of growth and momentum, yes, GTPL will require additional manpower to rise to the situational demand. We plan to have a mix and match of internal as well as external recruitments in the coming years.

GTPL is one of the few MSO, who have been posting consistent and positive financials over the past more than 4 years. With strong fundamentals, the right investments in technology, timely and quick response to the changing environmental and regulatory framework, GTPL is well poised to further strengthen its financials. We have repaid ₹3,419 Mn of our external borrowings in the last 4 years and our net debts are only ₹701 Mn as of Sep 30, 2020.

(Anusha Ashwin : x-anushaa@cybermedia.co.in)

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