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Breaking News : Cable TV, DTH players oppose TRAI move on inter-operable set-top boxes
Mumbai, May 2:

Cable TV operators and DTH service providers have opposed a move by the telecom regulator to introduce interoperability of set-top boxes (STBs). Interoperability would allow users to change the TV service providers without having to change their set-top box or dish antennae. This is similar to the number portability introduced in the mobile service segment.

However, DTH players said that it was not feasible to introduce interoperability. Reliance Digital TV said that if it was possible to develop an interoperable box, no DTH operator would have ever invested in manufacturing, selling and installation of their own boxes.

“This is because no operator is making money by selling boxes, neither is the selling of boxes their core business. In fact, large part of their loss/risk is due to the fact that the operator has to subsidise the STB to be able to acquire the customer in the environment of hyper competition between various forms of TV distribution options available to the consumers,” Reliance Digital TV said in response to a paper floated by the TRAI.
Consultation paper

A consultation paper on draft tariff order, prescribing framework for commercial interoperability of customer premises equipment — set-top box — in DTH services was floated in February last year.

In December last year again TRAI had floated a new concept paper asking stakeholders to respond on the same issue asking for ways to implement interoperability.

Currently, cable operators and DTH service providers offer their services bundled with a set-top box that comes at a cost of ₹1,500-2,000.

However, if a consumer is not satisfied with his service provider, he is forced to buy a new STB from the other operator because of technical issues. Even the amount paid for the box is non-refundable.

“The feasibility of implementing this idea in TV distribution is doubtful. Telecom and TV distribution have different dynamics altogether,” industry players said on anonymity.

They says set-top box of one company is incompatible with the other . “Interoperability is an expensive proposition. The cost of a new conditional access module (CAM) for interoperability is same as the new set top box. So from a customer point of view it is not a viable option. The very purpose of Interoperability gets defeated as you cannot upgrade to the higher version of the compression like High Efficiency Video Compression,” sources indicated.

The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) said, “In the case of DTH, even full STB interoperability cannot ensure technical interoperability of services, as the subscriber’s satellite dish may need to be re-pointed or replaced with a larger one and the low noise block down converter (LNB) may also need replacement for a different frequency band.”

“CASBAA also believes that regulator-imposed technical interoperability requirements will impose very large burdens on Indian consumers and industry players and risk stifling innovation in development of new features of interest to consumers,” it added.

DEN Network in its response to TRAI said different compression standards, transmission, CAS and middleware have proprietary technologies that are the major hindrance in interoperability.

“If all the MSOs will have the same features and the security level, then the competition in the cable market for giving the best services may get diminished. It may further create the hurdles for some CAS vendors to come up with future roadmap in the form of feature development and the services to the consumers,” it added. Players also note that with 90 million STBs already installed in the consumer houses.
₹20,000-cr investment

Players in the business point that they have invested nearly ₹20,000 crore in STBs by DTH industry . “The manufacturing of interoperable STBs can be initiated only once a standard is specified by the BIS. Till such time, the entire process of implementing interoperability would continue to be a distant reality,” said representatives of Star India. “Even if all the present STBs are replaced by the new boxes, much more than 90 million STBs would become redundant & require disposal,” it added.

However, Delhi-based Cable Operators Federation of India, representing the last-mile cable TV operators, said that the DTH operators had by themselves signed on the agreement to provide interoperable STB. “The operators avoid providing interoperability because they feel they will lose hold on the subscriber who may migrate to some other network which offers better service or better price. The interoperability will bring in more competition, which will help consumers pay the right price. Operators will be benefited if the interoperability is brought in as then operators who provide good services at an economical price will grow,” the association said.

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