In what may be good news for consumers, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has successfully developed an interoperable set-top box (STB) for digital Cable TV broadcasting services, which will allow subscribers to use the same STB interchangeably between various service providers, the regulator said. This essentially means that in case a consumer wants to change his service provider (either cable or direct-to-home), he need not buy a new set-top box. The interoperable set-top boxes have been developed in partnership with the Center for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), TRAI’s nodal partner in the project.
“TRAI is in the process of laying down a framework of interoperable STBs. With this framework, the subscriber would be able to change its service provider without any need to re-invest in the new STB. C-DOT, the telecom technology development centre of the Government of India, in close coordination with TRAI, has developed solution architecture for interoperable STB,” the regulator said in a statement. TRAI has sought comments from broadcast industry stakeholders on the proposed architecture of the new set-top box. The regulator will also be organizing a workshop and a pilot project for implementation and testing of STB interoperability. “The lack of interoperability of STBs between different service providers has not only compromised the competition in the pay-TV market but is also a major hindrance to technological innovation, improvement in service quality, and sector growth,” the authority said.
This development comes a year after TRAI released a pre consultation paper to identify issues related to interoperability of STBs, concerns of the industry and possible solutions. In 2016, TRAI had also hired 12 experts (with C-DOT as its nodal partner) to look into the technological challenges involved in allowing subscribers to use the same set-top box for different service providers, media had reported earlier. Agreed Anil Malhotra, chief operating officer at Siti Networks Ltd. “This is one issue that has plagued the industry for a long time. We will have to ensure that the set-top boxes are secure and that this framework fits all the stakeholders. It’s a little early to speculate on how the system will roll-out but surely, there will be lesser e-junk in the country,” he said.
Reality in 2018
Centre for Development of Telematics (CDoT) has readied a prototype to showcase the technology for interoperability of STBs. “We had a meeting with CDoT in the last week of July in Bengaluru. CDoT is the agency which we had engaged for developing a prototype and technology architecture for interoperability of set-top boxes. They have completed work largely to our satisfaction,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma as saying. The next stage is to see how the prototype can be replicated and how technology can be transferred for commercial production.
“We will take all stakeholders into consideration. Piracy is an important concern here, especially for broadcasters. We will talk to them and develop a clear understanding so that there are no holes in the system which can be compromised with,” the TRAI chairman said. Cost is also another big consideration, he added. With a STB costing Rs 1,700-2,200, customers are reluctant to change their service provider even if they have service issues. TRAI will first demonstrate the robustness of the technology to all stakeholders. The new technology will meet all operator specific requirements in a smart card and generic details in the box. When a DTH or cable TV subscriber decides to change the service provider, he just needs to change the card without changing the STB. “We expect to conclude this issue in the next 5-6 months and hopefully, people will be able to use this service by next year. The finalisation of the issue, however, is dependent on many factors; the media quoted RS Sharma as saying.
TRAI has been wanting to introduce technical interoperability of STBs provided by multi-system operators (MSOs) and DTH players for quite some time now. The broadcast sector regulator had come out with a pre-consultation paper on STB interoperability in April 2016. By bringing technical interoperability, TRAI aims to bring the TV distribution sector on a par with the telecom sector, where customers can change their service provider without having to invest in new hardware, in this case the STB. In telecom, consumers can freely switch from one service provider to another without having to change their handset. TRAI wants to implement the same template in TV distribution. Sharma has been wanting to define standards for STBs to ease the process of changing service providers. Earlier, he had said that the regulator would end the monopoly of a service provider on the STBs. “We will set up standards so that the STBs are not tied to a provider. It should be the same philosophy as in the telecom sector. The STB should be de-coupled from the service provider.” DTH operators have raised concerns over technical interoperability, arguing that not only is it difficult to achieve but also commercially unviable. They have argued that technical interoperability would be difficult to achieve since different platforms operate on different technologies.