DTH interoperability could soon be a reality. TRAI chairman RS Sharma was in the news last week when he announced that set-top box (STB) portability in India will become a reality soon, may be as early as by the end of this year. This will enable DTH (direct-to-home) and cable tv viewers to switch their service providers without changing their set top box. But how exactly would this work?
Right now, inter-operability is not possible because every set-top box has different software and configuration set by the operator, and thus it cannot be used for the services of a different company. But having a universal set-top-box can solve the problem. Under the new technology for interoperability, all operator-specific requirements will be embedded in a smart card. The card, which has a device similar to mobile SIM, will work on any set-top box, regardless of the operator.
So when one person switches to another service provider, say from Dish TV to Tata Sky, he just needs to bear the cost of the new card and his new subscription plan, instead of changing the set-top box all over again.
RS Sharma had said earlier that instead of loading proprietary software, the boxes should have a method which would allow downloading of software after the purchase. “For example, you can buy a neutral STB from the market and the instrument remains independent. Thereafter, whosoever is your service provider may load his software on the box,” Sharma was quoted as saying.
As of now, cable operators and DTH service providers offer their services bundled with a set-top box, which comes at a cost of upwards of Rs 2,000, depending on which STB you choose. However, if a consumer is not satisfied with his service provider, he is forced to buy a new set-top box from the other operator, without getting any kind of refund for his previous box. This discourages consumers to change their service providers. Interoperability is expected to increase competition in the space, resulting in lower subscription charges.
Tata Sky, Dish TV, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Group, Videocon and Sun Direct are the major players in DTH space, which is growing rapidly across the country. Currently, India is estimated to have over 160 million pay-TV subscribers.