The information and broadcasting ministry is yet to decide on the technical specification for the Conditional Access System that would be worked into set top boxes used in DTH services. The expert opinion regarding the configuration of set top boxes has been sought from the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd.
The delay in taking a decision, is the proof that it is no simple matter. I&B minister Sushma Swaraj has gone to the extent of visiting the DTH facilities at Chilburn in UK to see how the system actually works.
According to the industry sources, the options before the government are limited: either an inter-operable or non-interoperable CAS. From the customer’s viewpoint, it is the inter-operable CAS that wins since it allows switching from one DTH platform to another without having to change STBs.
But none of the prospective players would be ready to embrace this system, as DTH is being sold in price-sensitive India as a `highly subsidised service.’ The dish antenna, cable, Low Noise Block Converter and set-top box together are expected to cost Rs 20,000 under this system.
If a DTH operator offers it for say Rs 7,000-8,000, he would not like a competitor’s DTH bouquet of channels to ride over his infrastructure, specially since a DTH platform owner would have to invest around $300-400 million to set up shop.
To complicate matters further, the interoperable systems include two kinds: simulcrypt and multicrypt. The former allows conditional access through sophisticated embedded software which in turn calls for larger memory in the STBs (thus raising the cost) while the latter involves `smart cards’ which have to be switched for access to different programmes (bringing in additional costs).
The system adopted by BSkyB in UK, which Mrs. Swaraj recently witnessed, is not inter-operable. Curiously a non-interoperable CAS is already in use between channels and cable operators and available in the market.
If this is adopted, due to commercial considerations and on the behest of the industry, DTH would take the shape of a single bouquet of `pay channels’: a private network between a consumer and a service provider.