On April 4, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) initiated the pre-consultation process on set-top box (STB) interoperability to allow subscribers use the same STB (Set Top Box) interchangeably between various service providers.
TRAI has asked for comments from various stakeholders (like STB manufacturers, chip vendors, Conditional Access System providers and software providers) by April 29 to identify issues related to interoperability of STBs, its challenges, concerns of the industry and possible solutions to achieve technical interoperability of STBs.
The enormous commercial implications of non-interoperability of STBs prompted the regulatory body to commence this step. As mentioned in the pre-consultation paper issued on April 4 “As per the report submitted by DTH Operators to TRAI, as on December 2015, around 85 million of STBs have been either sold or provided to the subscriber in the market, out which only around 55 million are in active mode. This indicates that around 30 million STBs are lying idle or unused, mainly because of non-interoperability of STBs. Page 5 of 24 Since the inactive STBs cannot be used for reception of services of the other operator, the money invested into the STB go waste and it also results in e-waste. Considering an initial capital expenditure around $ 25 per STB, a total of $ 750 million capital is lying unused.”
“STB interoperability would empower the consumers to change their cable TV (or DTH) service providers whenever required, without changing their STBs and without any major cost implications. This would shift the focus of the sector towards providing better quality of services to the consumers at competitive prices. Implementation of STB inter-operability, will also make them available in the open market, will drastically reduce cost, and address the challenge of e-waste resulting due to discarded set-top-boxes.”
However, the DTH operators, MSOs and LCOs are sceptical about the step. Jawahar Goel, Managing Director, DishTV feels this is an exploration. “Based on the stakeholders’ inputs the regulator needs to take an informed decision. We have to keep in mind that this hasn’t worked in developed countries. But at least by taking inputs there will be correction of age-old regulations. Let’s see how preconsultation rolls out,” he says.
Vikki Choudhry, Director, Home Digital Media Limited feels Trai is being too ambitious with this move. “It’s not possible in the case of wireline broadcasting because it’s network agnostic. In case of DTH operator you still have the option to shift between six operators because of the smart card. But what TRAI can do is make Panaccess, (a German-headquartered company for CAS) mandatory for all MSOs in the country. Also it has to be a soft CAS (Conditional Access System) where neither smartcard nor SIM is needed. So when the subscriber is shifting between cities he can use the same box. Then it will just be a matter of whitelisting and blacklisting the subscriber.”
Suresh Sethiya, Director, Siticable which is Kolkata’s largest MSO player is of the same opinion, “Interoperability doesn’t make sense. It will bring all types of encryption in the box which will increase the cost of the box in a market which is still cost conservative.”
The only person optimistic about this move is Tony D’Silva, CEO and MD, IndusInd Media & Communications Limited which handles MSO Incable. “I think it’s a good move. It will help both the consumer and industry. Also time has come for sharing infrastructure. The big problem with the industry is that STB is misused by people. With interoperatibility this problem will be solved. Surely it won’t be smooth as many issues need to be resolved and cost to be shared.”
With such a divided stand, only by April 29 will Trai come to a concrete decision.