STB interoperability in cable is not viable: MIB tells IT committee

MUMBAI: Even as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman RS Sharma has set a target of rolling out set top box (STB) interoperability by 2019-end, the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) has stated that STB interoperability in the cable is not viable.

STB interoperability is the process of changing the service provider without having to change the STB. Currently, the STB is tied to a specific operator due to various technical, commercial and market-driven reasons.

In its response to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, the ministry has stated that STB interoperability has several technical and commercial issues.

The MIB stated that the interoperability requirements from the technical perspective need to be detailed out due to its huge impact at all the levels of implementation and to the entire eco-system including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and distribution system starting from the headend.

It further stated that the current implementation is too much OEM specific while interoperability shall need major changes to harmonise the implementation of various components in software and security.

The ministry also noted that the fate of the existing STBs deployed in the field is unclear.

Explaining further, the ministry stated that the operating system/Middleware and EPG, boot loaders are specific to chip vendors and OEMs and it allows the updating of STB software by specific operators after proper verification. Operators due to concerns of piracy make STB tightly coupled by integrating.

“In view of above, it may be stated that presently, the interoperability of Set Top Boxes in Cable Section is not viable,” the MIB said in its response.

While noting that the ministry report gives a positive outlook on the efforts carried out by TRAI/CDOT for achieving interoperability, the ministry stated that it has been discussing the issue with Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL) that due to present eco-system of digitisation and efforts involved in managing the complexity involved in this task, there is need to arbitrate on the topic of interoperability and come-up with clear approach.

It further stated that the topic has been open for several years without clear planning and approach to achieve the goal.

The MIB’s clear-cut response to the IT committee is contrary to the statement given by TRAI chairman RS Sharma who stated that the regulator is hoping to bring STB interoperability by 2019-end.

TRAI Chairman RS Sharma said that the TRAI is working with government agencies like Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) as well as outside consultants to work out a solution.

In its report, the IT committee had noted that the implementation of STB interoperability will make them available in the open market, and will drastically reduce the challenge of e-waste resulting due to discarded set-top boxes.

It had also stated that the availability of STB in an open market will reduce the capital requirement of service providers and improve the cash flow position of the industry.

The objective of achieving technical interoperability is to facilitate greater consumer convenience and consumer choice while spurring innovation and healthy competition in the industry, as well as its orderly growth.

Interoperability can be achieved either through technical interoperability or commercial interoperability.

To ensure commercial interoperability, the TRAI has also notified tariff orders for cable TV service provided through Digital Addressable systems and DTH service which provides an easy exit option to subscribers, ensures availability of consumer—premises-equipment (CPE – that primarily consists of STB and Dish antenna) at reasonable prices, easy to understand terms and conditions and, at the same time, protects the interests of the service providers.

Technical interoperability as provided for in the existing BIS specifications/DTH Guidelines is expected to be achieved by means of a combination of Common Interface (CI) slot in the STB and pluggable Conditional Access Module (CAM). In this arrangement, it is envisaged that services of any particular operator can be availed by simply plugging in the CAM of that operator into the CI slot of the STB of any another operator.

However, technical interoperability, as envisaged in the existing DTH Guidelines, has, so far, not proved to be effective as the cost of the Conditional access module is almost similar to the cost of the new STB due to very low volume.