Like mobile number portability, STB interoperability will enable a user to switch to a different service provider without changing the set-top box.It is already available in many developed markets, but here consumers have no choice as each set-top box is seen as an exclusive property of the DTH operator or the MSO.When he wants to change the service provider, he is forced to invest in a new STB, adding to the cost burden. Besides, STBs of old service providers remain unused, and ends up as electronic waste.
TRAI said: “Many STBs of erstwhile service provider remain unused, thereby creating electronic waste. Interoperability of STB creates an open and competitive market, bringing in volume of scale and consumer preference.”
As per TRAI Chairman RS Sharma, TRAI is working with government agencies like Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) as well as outside consultants to work out a solution.
On 9 May 2019, TRAI conducted a workshop to discuss the “Downloadable CAS-based solution” to implement STB interoperability, where stakeholders deliberated the way forward and challenges.
TRAI added: “The authority is working with system integrators, SOC vendors, CAS providers, and other stakeholders for technical discussions. After detailed consultations, a proof-of-concept (POC) testing of the proposed solution will be arranged. A successful POC testing will address vital concerns of the stakeholders.”
In fact, TRAI had been engaging the stakeholders on this issue since 2017, but things are not as successful due to numerous challenges.
TRAI said: “Ensuring content security, strong anti-piracy features and flexibility (to service providers for offering value-added-services) while keeping the STB costs reasonable is the main challenge in achieving STB interoperability. STB interoperability will be a win-win proposition for all stakeholders in the medium- to long-term.”
The workshop was attended by 60 participants including broadcasters, Direct To Home (DTH) operators, Multi Systems Operators (MSOs), vendors, CAS suppliers, STB manufacturers and system integrators.
TRAI Chairman R S Sharma said: “Consumer interest remains the focus of the authority. The interoperability brings the economies of scale, freedom of choice, promotes competition that results in overall growth of the broadcasting sector.”
The main goal 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.
TRAI’s efforts timelines:
TRAI had issued Consultation Paper on Technical Interoperability of DTH Set Top Boxes on 20 August 2010, and Pre-Consultation Paper on Set Top Box Interoperability on 4 April 2016, and Consultation Note on Solution Architecture for Technical Interoperable Set Top Box on 11 August 2017. All were aimed to bring ease in the lives of customers and make change hassle-free.
As we know that in order to ensure commercial interoperability, TRAI had 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.
Now, 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). The 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.
But technical interoperability, as envisaged in the existing DTH Guidelines, is not effective as the cost of the Conditional access module is almost similar to the cost of the new STB due to very low volume.
The framework of interoperable STB as given in the Consultation Note on Solution Architecture for Technical Interoperable Set Top Box issued on 11 August 2017should ensure the following:-
- The level of security should be similar to or better than what is present today.
- The framework must be sound enough to prevent reception of services by unauthorized persons.
- The prices of the interoperable STBs should remain comparable to non-interoperable STBs.
- The portability cost should reduce considerably.
- The DPOs should be able to choose security solutions (Conditional Access
- System) as per their requirements.
- The proposed solution must be able to identify pirates, if any.
- The User Interface (UI) and Electronic Program Guide (EPG) formatcustomization.
- The framework should ensure that TV channels with EPG listing continue to be available to the consumers on migration to another operator.
To address the concerns of the stakeholders in respect of interoperable STBs, as communicated in response to the pre-consultation paper mentioned above, TRAI collaborated with IIT-Bombay and Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). The issues identified by stakeholders in response to the pre-consultation paper we recommunicated to C-DOT and IIT-Bombay. Now C-DOT, the telecom technology development centre of the Government of India, in close coordination with TRAI, has developed a solution for interoperable STBs. Describing the same, C-DOT has provided TRAI, a copy of the document titled “C-DOT framework and feature requirements for the ecosystem entities towards implementation of STB interoperability framework”.
I&B Ministry differ:
The ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) had said in January 2019 that STB interoperability in the cable is not viable.
The MIB gave its response to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, and said that STB interoperability has several technical and commercial issues. 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.
MIB added 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. “Also, the fate of the existing STBs deployed in the field is unclear.”
It said: “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. It may be stated that presently, the interoperability of Set Top Boxes in Cable Section is not viable.”
Though the I&B Ministry accepted that its report gave a positive outlook on the efforts carried out by TRAI/CDOT for achieving interoperability, it however said 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.
The Ministry told the IT committee 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. 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.