TRAI Recommended For DTT Service, It May Be Introduced In Phased Manner

TRAI has said that private players should be permitted to provide DTT services along with the public service broadcaster. The broadcast regulator TRAI recommended introduction of digital terrestrial transmission for broadcast services in a phased manner and complete shut down of analog transmission by end of 2023. “Digital terrestrial transmission may be implemented in the country in three phases with complete migration and analog switch off by December 2023,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said in its recommendations on the “Issues related to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in India”.

At present, terrestrial TV broadcasting in India is under the exclusive domain of Doordarshan (Prasar Bharati), the Public Service Broadcaster and it is predominantly analog. While a large number of TV channels are available to the consumers through various delivery platforms such as DTH, Cable TV, IPTV, HITS etc, TRAI said, the existing terrestrial TV platform provides only a few channels which do not offer a value proposition to the viewers. “This is a move that may lead a combination of multiple DTT transmitters at a location, which can provide a rich bouquet of SDTV, HDTV, UHTV, mobile TV channels, radio service and other value added services,” TRAI Chairman RS Sharma said. Currently, terrestrial broadcasting is the monopoly of the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati which runs Doordarshan and is primarily analog. Doordarshan operates DTT service in 16 cities and is further planning to expand it to three new cities by March 2017 and 44 more in the next two years.

What is Digital terrestrial broadcasting?

Digital terrestrial television (DTTV or DTT) is a technological evolution of broadcast television and advancement over analog television. DTTV broadcasts land-based (terrestrial) signals. The advantages of digital terrestrial television, are similar to digital versus analog in platforms such as cable, satellite, and all telecommunications; the efficient use of spectrum and provision of more capacity than analog, better quality images, and lower operating costs for broadcast and transmission (after the initial upgrade costs). A terrestrial implementation of digital television (DTV) technology uses an aerial to broadcast to a conventional television antenna (or aerial) instead of a satellite dish or cable television connection.

There are a number of advantages of digital terrestrial television. The platform is content agnostic and can be adapted to handle new forms of content. Frequency use is much more efficient, allowing for the transmission of 20 to 30 SD channels in the spectrum occupied by a single television channel in an analog signal. DTT offers better quality of images and sound as compared to analog signals. A combination of DTT transmitters at a single location can provide consumers with a range of content options, including radio and video feeds of various qualities.

The DTT transmitters have lower power requirements than traditional analog transmitters. The signals can be received easily by moving vehicles and mobile phones. In countries where content rich DTT services have been introduced, they have been accepted as alternatives to DTH services and cable TV. DTT transmitters can facilitate mobile data offload services, for better use of available resources. Video content is some of the most bandwidth-heavy content on the internet, and most of the data in India is provided through mobile connections. This means that the roll out of DTT has the potential to take some of the load off cellular networks. The mobile phones supporting DTT can have an integrated chip, or the service can be provided through a dongle.

Various systems of digital terrestrial broadcast television systems have been developed:

  • ATSC DTV – Advanced Television Standards Committee (System A)
  • ATSC-M/H – Advanced Television Systems Committee Mobile & Handheld
  • ChinaDTV
  • DVB-H – Digital Video Broadcasting Handheld
  • DVB-T – Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial (System B) {India Used}
  • ISDB-T – Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting Terrestrial (System C).
  • DMB-T/H
  • ISDB-TSB – Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial Sound Broadcasting -(System F)
  • FLO – Forward Link Only (System M)

Recommendations

The recommendations by TRAI includes a plan for a time-bound introduction of DTT in India. TV Channels, Mobile TV and value added services will be provided through DTT. As of now, all the analog TV transmissions are provided only by Doordarshan, but Trai plans to allow private players to keep the market competitive. According to spectrum availability, any given service area can have a maximum of four private players in addition to the public service broadcaster, Doordarshan. The number of DTT transmitters for a service area has a recommended cap of seven.

The migration is planned in a phased manner, with total shutdown of analog TV towers by 2023. There are three planned phases for the migration. Metro cities will first get DTT, a process that is planned to be completed by 2019. Tier II cities with a population of more than 10 lakh residents are currently scheduled to switchover to DTT by 2021. The final phase will see the roll out of DTT to the rest of India. Trai has recommended a minimum overlap of three months, where both DTT and analog TV will run side-by-side before analog is switched off.

In the recommendations submitted to the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, the regulator has proposed the implementation of DTT services in metro cities (phase I) by 31 December, 2019. For cities with a population of more than 10 lakh (according to Census 2011), DTT will be implemented by 31 December 2021, while by 31 December 2023, the regulator has proposed a complete migration from analog transmission across the country. The recommendations have been submitted to I&B ministry for approval.

Terrestrial television broadcasting is the traditional way of delivering television channels by transmission of TV signals through radio waves. The DTT model, developed by Doordarshan is an Internet-free broadcast distribution service, through which consumers can receive television channels on the go or at home through television sets, smartphones and tablets—using an application and a dongle specifically designed for the service.

According to the recommendations, the regulator has asked I&B ministry to set up a coordination committee to steer implementation of DTT “to ensure creation of a facilitating environment and timely completion for digitization of terrestrial broadcasting.” “Maximum number of DTT providers may be capped at five (one public broadcaster and four private broadcasters) at a particular place as per availability of spectrum,” the regulator said in the statement. Trai in June 2016 had issued a consultation paper on ‘Issues related to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in India’, inviting comments from the stakeholders on the existing terrestrial TV broadcasting scenario for implementation of DTT across the country.

Private DTT Broadcasters

Trai has said that Private DTT broadcasters should be permitted to provide DTT services along with the public service broadcaster. Public broadcaster may be permitted to operate maximum three transmitters at a given location out of which one may be exclusively used for provision of mobile TV services, the regulator said. “Private broadcasters may be permitted to operate maximum four transmitters (with spectrum capacity of 8 MHz each) at a given location subject to availability of spectrum,” Trai said.

The regulator has also suggested that maximum number of DTT providers may be capped at five (one public broadcaster and four private broadcasters) as per availability of spectrum. Sharma said that in the digital era, consumers prefer to have access to number of TV channels on various devices such as mobile phones and other handheld devices. “…terrestrial viewers are deprived of such benefits due to non-availability of digital terrestrial broadcasting services. Terrestrial television broadcasting is the preferred method for providing free-to-air TV services to the people in most of the countries,” he added.

.“It is a huge commercial opportunity waiting to be opened up by the government. Globally, this sector is opened to private players. But in India it is the monopoly of the government,” said an industry executive who did not wish to be identified. The executive further explained that DTT model will lead to an efficient use of the spectrum and will offer better quality signals in the rural areas without Internet. “Television channels can easily be received on mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices via DTT services without requiring Internet,” the executive said.

Doordarshan’s Expansion

State-owned broadcaster Doordarshan is planning to expand its new digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) service across the country. The broadcaster, which currently operates the service in 16 cities, is planning to expand it to three new cities by March 2017 and 44 more in the next two years. In the process, Doordarshan has also partnered with Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIMA) to develop a suitable business model for the platform which it expects will be firmed up soon. The DTT model is an Internet-free broadcast distribution service, through which consumers can receive television channels on the go or at home through television sets, smartphones and tablets—using a Doordarshan application and a dongle specifically designed for the service.

“We are working with IIMA to develop a business model which will be ready by February. We might share the capacity by auctioning channel slots to the private broadcasters. We are yet to finalize the model and from there, we can further develop a roadmap for DTT. This can be a game changer for the industry,” said Supriya Sahu, director general at Doordarshan, adding that the broadcaster will spend about Rs 320 crore to achieve its targets by 2018. Doordarshan’s DTT model currently showcases five of its channels—DD News, DD Bharati, DD National, DD Sports and a regional-language channel or DD Kisan, depending on the area. The model has the capacity to carry 10 channels. Earlier this month, Doordarshan organized a discussion with private broadcasters to familiarize them with the DTT model and proposed a partnership in the future.

Broadcasters have welcomed the offer. “It is an interesting space. It’s a new concept which we are evaluating and accordingly, management will take a call. We are planning to have more interactions with Doordarshan officials,” said Naresh Chahal, vice-president at Sony Pictures Networks India Pvt. Ltd. The advantage of DTT over video-on-demand services like Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video is that DTT does not require an Internet connection. However, the DTT set-up needs huge investment and currently has little capacity, which according to Sahu, remains a challenge for Doordarshan. Another official from a broadcasting company, who did not wish to be identified, said DTT certainly has a future in India, “but there is no way to tell how successful it is or can be. Doordarshan currently has a very rough plan and needs a better understanding of the sector. Private participation depends on how perfectly Doordarshan is able to develop its model,” the official said.

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