DTH ops explain why STB interoperability is technically not feasible

MUMBAI: Direct to home (DTH) players have stated that the interoperability of set top box (STB) is not technically feasible due to various implementation related challenges.

The TRAI had issued a consultation paper on ‘Interoperability of Set Top Box (STB)’ for digital TV broadcasting services on 11th November 2019.

The regulator had stated that a lack of interoperability of STBs between different service providers has not only compromised the competition in the Pay-TV market but also a major hindrance to technological innovation, improvement in service quality, and sector growth.

The TRAI had also stated that the STB interoperability will bring significant benefits for the sector. An interoperable STB will extend freedom of choice to the consumers, create an open market, commoditise the STB thereby providing the advantages of scale and reduce e-waste. It will also enable the DPOs by enabling them to save lock-in capital as-well-as service-related issues of STBs.

In its response to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India‘s (TRAI) consultation paper on STB interoperability, Tata Sky has submitted that interoperability will only be viable if an STB could be designed having a reasonable cost at the highest standards of quality without any detrimental impact on the security and privacy features of the STB.

It further stated that the current STB eco-system allows operators to provide a secure solution (HDCP/ Water-marking/Fingerprint etc.) at optimum cost. “We have serious concerns about third party manufacturers, developers being able to maintain the same security standards in the interoperable STB,” Tata Sky stated.

It also noted that the presence of multiple compression standards comes in the way of interoperability since different DTH operators entered the market at different times.

Further, the STB model, functionality, processor speed, memory, software configuration, encryption, and transmission standards differ amongst operators and this will lead to serious compatibility issues if inter-operability is attempted.

Tata Sky also argued that the interoperable STB would get outdated/ obsolete very soon as there would be a requirement by operators to upgrade. Alternatively, the operator would start getting stifled by the slow pace of upgrade.

The DTH operator noted that the process of BIS standardisation of various STB features (which have been proprietary due to legacy reasons) would require significant cost and long gestation period of the standardisation process. “In the current scenario of the sector, with aggressive and unregulated competition coming in from OTT and Mobile Operators, this is not feasible.”

It also stated that the subscriber will not be able to receive end-to-end servicing by his respective operator for STBs purchased from the open market. “Also, the entry cost of getting a TV connection would increase on account of subsidies not being available in open market STBs. This cost increase is avoidable especially since the growth is coming from DAS 3 and DAS 4 markets.”

The DTH operator also argued that distributors and broadcasters will lose revenue in case there is a delay by the STB OEM in resolving any STB issue of a subscriber. “Meanwhile the revenues of the STB OEM will not be impacted. Thus, subscribers will be inconvenienced rather than benefitted from STB interoperability.”

Dish TV submitted that the TRAI envisaged Interoperable STB is not desirable for a number of reasons, apart from the technical factors.

First and foremost, it noted that the dynamics of the STB industry and very rapid and enable new product cycles at a relatively low cost and advanced features which will get impeded if an elaborate mechanism of Interoperability including that of DVB-C and DVB-T has to be gone through. It will increase the cost at the same time disproportionately.

It further stated that the TRAI needs to recognise that with increasing incoming wireless and broadband, Smart sticks for linear and VoD content and Smart TV Apps the entire ecosystem of a TV home has changed and is moving towards a rapid transformation.

Dish TV contended that the TRAI cannot simply ignore the rapidly gaining segment of broadband and OTT delivery and the devices including the STBs which come with this. “These have their own technologies of DRM and content protection which are based on two-way interconnectivity rather than one-way DSA and key transfer algorithms.”

The DTH operator believes that it is an appropriate time for TRAI to look at the ecosystem of Broadband based STBs vis-à-vis DTH or cable delivered devices. “Both are moving towards IP and with a common architecture and a vibrant TV ecosystem can only be furthered with an integrated view.”

Further, Dish TV stated that it does not believe that a static technologically tested devices such as done by C-DoT can have any standing in the rapidly changing environment of induction of new technical features almost by the day.

Bharti Telemedia (Airtel Digital TV) believes that the present “commercial interoperability” of DTH set top boxes is more consumer-friendly as the DTH industry provides STB on a subsidised cost. The subscribers have the option to return the STB back to their DTH operator which can be re-used by the said DTH operator.

“Further, this ensures that the movement of subscribers between DTH operators is governed by the prevalent market forces and quality of service levels and not by limitations imposed as a result of technology specifications adopted by the operators,” it stated.

The DTH operator stated that the inter-operability may not yield the expected benefits considering the magnitude of the cost involved in establishing interoperability and the absence of a solution to address the inherent risks related to content security. “The fact that in existing STBs, cost of CAM module itself would be higher than the cost of the Set Top Box and with cost of integration of CAM module in the STB, the proposal becomes unviable.”

The implementation of technical interoperability of STBs is saddled with various business, practical and customer-centric issues, Bharti Telemedia added.

The company buttressed its argument by stating that the integration and alignment of different STB technologies deployed by DTH Operators defeat the inter-operability concept. Additionally, there is a challenge to accommodate different versions of the compression and transmission technology of DTH operators.

It noted that a common structure will deprive DTH operators of innovation and created differentiation in services. Bharti Telemedia the cost of migration from one DPO to another DPO will be as good as buying a new STB as the cost of CAM module is almost equal to the cost of STB.

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