The digitization of cable TV network has led to huge deployment of STBs. Fuelled by mandatory digitisation the market is expanding with nationwide adoption of different distribution systems for digital signals. These include Direct-To-Home (DTH), Cable TV networks, IPTV etc. Due to various technical, implementation and market driven reasons, presently the STB is tied to the service provider (operator). That is, the same STB cannot be used interchangeably across the service providers within a given segment (in case of MSOs and as well as DTH/IPTV operators). This vertical market structure has disadvantages for end users and also a major hindrance to technological innovation and industrial growth in this segment. C-DOT is working as Knowledge partner to TRAI towards developing a framework for STB interoperability.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), suo moto, took up the issue of Set Top Box (STB) interoperability in the Indian broadcasting TV sector.
A STB is a device that is required to receive the digital TV broadcasting services by the subscribers. The STB receives encrypted TV signals, decrypts those signals into a form that can be viewed on a TV set. For reception of Pay TV services, the STB enables the subscriber to view the TV channels authorized by its service provider.
Presently, Distribution Platform Operator (DPO) provides STB, which is compatible with his network, to provide services to subscriber. Over a period of time, variety of technologies has been deployed by DPOs into the networks. It has led to a situation where STBs provided by one operator are not compatible with the system of the other operator. This impedes portability of a subscriber from one operator to another in case he wishes to do so.
In the perspective of subscribers, provision of switch-over from one operator to another without replacing the STB is known as Technical interoperability allows a subscriber to use the same STB for availing the services of any other operator after authorization from that operator. TRAI’s objective is to chalk out a framework to facilitate consumer choice, innovation, orderly growth and healthy competition in the industry. The framework should enable an ecosystem to give the market a chance to evolve at its own pace and independently respond to consumer demands.
STB Interoperability: Core technical issues
Conditional Access System (CAS), is by definition, proprietary. In many present day implementations, it is tightly coupled to STB hardware (in SoC), although there is no such mandatory provision mentioned in the prevailing standards.
CAM is not cost effective. CAM is functionally almost as much as the STB itself. CAM based interoperability could not see market penetration due to different techno commercial reasons. The factors remain unchanged even for CI + 2.0 as well.
Flexibility in prevailing standards and in some cases, non-adherence to the standard/recommendations during implementation, is major hurdle towards interoperability of STB specifically w.r.t. middleware.