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TRAI chairman hopes to make STB interoperability a reality in 2018

MUMBAI: Cable TV and direct-to-home (DTH) subscribers will be able to switch their service providers without changing their set-top box (STB) from next year. At least that is what the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma is working towards and believes substantial progress has been made to make this possible.

Centre for Development of Telematics (CDoT) has readied a prototype to showcase the technology for interoperability of STBs.

“We had a meeting with CDoT in the last week of July in Bengaluru. CDoT is the agency which we had engaged for developing a prototype and technology architecture for interoperability of set-top boxes. They have completed work largely to our satisfaction,” DNA quoted Sharma as saying.

The next stage is to see how the prototype can be replicated and how technology can be transferred for commercial production.

“We will take all stakeholders into consideration. Piracy is an important concern here, especially for broadcasters. We will talk to them and develop a clear understanding so that there are no holes in the system which can be compromised with,” the TRAI chairman said. Cost is also another big consideration, he added.

With a STB costing Rs 1,700-2,200, customers are reluctant to change their service provider even if they have service issues.

TRAI will first demonstrate the robustness of the technology to all stakeholders. The new technology will meet all operator specific requirements in a smart card and generic details in the box. When a DTH or cable TV subscriber decides to change the service provider, he just needs to change the card without changing the STB.

“We expect to conclude this issue in the next 5-6 months and hopefully, people will be able to use this service by next year. The finalisation of the issue, however, is dependent on many factors, the daily quoted Sharma as saying.

TRAI has been wanting to introduce technical interoperability of STBs provided by multi-system operators (MSOs) and DTH players for quite some time now. The broadcast sector regulator had come out with a pre-consultation paper on STB interoperability in April 2016.

By bringing technical interoperability, TRAI aims to bring the TV distribution sector on a par with the telecom sector, where customers can change their service provider without having to invest in new hardware, in this case the STB.

In telecom, consumers can freely switch from one service provider to another without having to change their handset. TRAI wants to implement the same template in TV distribution.

Sharma has been wanting to define standards for STBs to ease the process of changing service providers. Earlier, he had said that the regulator would end the monopoly of a service provider on the STBs. “We will set up standards so that the STBs are not tied to a provider. It should be the same philosophy as in the telecom sector. The STB should be de-coupled from the service provider.”

DTH operators have raised concerns over technical interoperability, arguing that not only is it difficult to achieve but also commercially unviable. They have argued that technical interoperability would be difficult to achieve since different platforms operate on different technologies.

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