India is cutting the cord

Unlimited broadband lines, cheap mobile data, and online streaming plans are killing cable and satellite TV in India

A friend based in the US and I were chatting and he was telling me that his cable TV and internet bill comes to around $195/month. Out of curiosity, I converted that to Indian rupees. It came to a mindboggling ₹14,237 as compared to the less than ₹1000 that I pay for the same services in India.

That’s one of the benefits of living in a country of 1.3 billion. The economies of scale make things much more affordable than in developed countries. My monthly bill would be ₹500 for broadband (40Mbps), ₹340 for cable TV, ₹100 each for online streaming on HotStar and Amazon Prime, and another ₹150 for my phone’s 4G plan (which includes 2GB data daily at 4G speeds as well as unlimited calls and messages anywhere within India). So my annual bill in India is less than my friend’s monthly bill in the US, and he’s just paying for internet and cable TV.

Surprisingly, it’s a private company called Jio that helped the internet in India take off. A few years ago, the cost of using a mobile phone was exorbitant. Calls were metered per second, and data was a daunting ₹300 for a measly 1GB (valid for a month), resulting in monthly bills anywhere between ₹500 to ₹2000. Then Jio disrupted the Indian market with mobile plans that offered unlimited calls and 1GB or more of data every day for a total bill of around ₹100/month. The competition’s networks were forced to match Jio’s prices, and internet usage in India exploded.

Now Jio has done it a second time, albeit at a smaller level. This time around, they are targeting the broadband market, (home WiFi users). Till a few months ago, broadband data in India was limited. My basic plan used to give me 200GB per month priced at ₹750 and 40Mbps speed. Then Jio Fiber began offering unlimited data plans for ₹500/month at the same speed of 40Mbps. The rest of the market is now following suit.

The majority of the Indian middle class already have a TV at home and use cable TV, paying anywhere from ₹350 to ₹1000 per month. But with the combination of unlimited broadband data, cheap prices for mobile data, and affordable online streaming options, the incremental cost to disconnect cable TV and switch to online streaming, is minimal.

That’s how I decided to buy a 32” smart TV for around ₹12,000 a couple of years ago (I also had a choice of converting my existing ordinary TV by getting the Chromecast device for ₹3000). I then cut my cable connection which was costing me ₹350/month and subscribed to Hotstar, an online streaming service for ₹999/yr. There were some teething issues but it’s worked out fine.

I watched the last two Grand Slam tennis tournaments (US & French Opens) on Hotstar. It’s owned by Disney who also owns Star TV. Quality is HD, I think 1080.

There are a few cons though.

Firstly, some older people can’t figure out streaming so my mother still has Asianet cable TV at ₹340/month at her home. Secondly, there’s a time delay in the telecast of matches sometimes, which may be around a couple of minutes, like during the US Open.

Thirdly, the streamers may not have all channels. Hotstar is tuned to Indian tastes in sports and shows mostly cricket. They don’t have NBA and didn’t telecast the first round of the French Open. So you may need more than one online streaming service. Luckily, I get a free streamer app with my phone plan from Jio. That Jio TV app has a lot of channels, including Sony Six in HD which is where NBA happens. The catch is the Jio TV app only works on portable devices so my iPad is the biggest screen that I can watch the NBA on.

It’s not just entertainment that’s changed. India is ahead of the West in other tech areas, like digital payments. You can send money from phone-to-phone in India within a few seconds for free. Even the little hole-in-the-wall shops in India now allow you to pay with payment apps, which work even on cheap Android phones. Very convenient when you are out jogging and don’t want to lug your wallet around, but can still pick up some bananas for ₹89 ($1.22).

I know people are naturally resistant to change, and worry about their bank accounts being hacked, etc. But if you take care, you can reduce the risks, and enjoy the fruits of the living in a time of rapid change.

it’s an odd world

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