Presently, as per license conditions, each operator establishes and maintains its own infrastructure for distribution of satellite broadcasting TV services to subscribers. The fact that most of the satellite TV channels re-transmitted by each operator are common, ther e is a scope for better utilization of available infrastructure and reducing the cost of operations. For optimum utilization of available infrastructure, there is a need to examine technical and commercial issues in sharing of infrastructure such as satellite transponders, Earth Station facilities, Head-end facilities and optical fiber networks.
With the advancement in technology, the network and services are getting decoupled. The network providers can focus on efficient operations and maintenance of networks so as to ensure maximum uptime and optimal utilization of available capacities. The service providers can focus on meeting the need of cons umers. The service provider’s focus on consumers may help in more efficient delivery of services and timely redressal of consumer grievances. In fact, at broadcaster’s level, these two functions are already decoupled. While a broadcaster is a service provider, a teleport operator, which uplink the TV channels of a broadcaster to the satellite, is a network provider. The existing policy framework provides separate guidelines for broadcaster and teleport operator.
This pre-consultation paper has been issued by TRAI on 23 May 2016 with an aim to solicit stakeholder’s views on issues related to sharing of infrastructure on voluntary basis and separation of network and service provider functions so as to reduce cost of distribution of services and enhance competition in respect of all type of TV distribution platforms.
Broadcasting TV Distribution Platforms
The following TV distribution platforms are present in India:
(a) Cable TV – There are about 900 Multi System Operators (MSOs) providing digital cable TV services (DAS) and 60,000 Cable Operators.
(b) Direct To Home (DTH) – There are 6 pay and 1 free to view DTH operator.
(c) Headend In The Sky (HITS) - There are 2 HITS operators.
(d) Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)
The schematic diagram of the Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems(DAS) is given in Figure 1:-
In DTH, for re-transmission of signals of TV channels to the subscribers, DTH operator uplinks the set of transport streams to KU band satellites hired by them. The signals can be received by a subscriber with the help of a small size (90 cm diameter) KU band antenna installed at the subscriber’s premises. The signals flows to the STB of the subscriber and then to the TV set. The schematic diagram of the DTH platform is given in Figure-2:-
Similarly, in case of HITS, the re-transmission of TV channels is done by uplinking of modulated signals of TV channels onto the C-Band satellite [uplinking using KU band is also permitted]. The signals are down linked by a Cable Operator who trans-modulates the same and retransmits it to the subscribers using co-axial cables.
Scope of sharing of infrastructure by distribution platform operators
1. Sharing of Transponder and Earth Station Infrastructure
In DTH service, the signals of TV channels are uplinked to the satellite having KU band transponders. In India, there are 6 pay DTH operators. Each DTH operator retransmits 300 to 450 TV channels.
A 36 MHz transponder is generally able to carry 17 SD TV channels using MPEG 4 compression and DVB S2 transmission methods and thus 20 to 25 transponders are required by each operator. Similarly, for retransmission, HITS operators uplink the signals of TV channels to either C band transponders or KU band transponders depending upon individual business case. Presently, in India, both the HITS operators are using C band transponders for re-transmission.
Most of the satellite TV channels re-transmitted by DTH/ HITS operators are replicated which results inefficient use of satellite transponders. Therefore, there exists a possibility of sharing of transponder space by different DTH and HITS operators, who are using co-located satellites and using KU band for retransmission. Since different DTH/ HITS operators may use different CAS systems, simulcrypt technology may be used for encryption of these common channels. For retransmission of operator specific channels, additional transponder space may be hired on the same satellite or on co-located satellite by each DTH/ HITS operator separately. The sharing of transponder space may encourage sharing of Earth Station infrastructure also for processing and uplinking of signals of TV channels.
2. Sharing of HITS/ MSO infrastructure
As per the existing guidelines for grant of permission to establish & operate HITS services, in the active mode of operation, HITS operator works like a conventional MSO except that virtually the head-end is in the sky instead of being located on ground. In passive mode of operation, the HITS operator can also decide to merely provide passive infrastructure facilities like transponder space on satellite, earth station facilities and the provision for simulcrypting /multicrypting of channels aggregated by different MSOs with different encryption systems to one or more MSOs or to a consortium of cable operators/ MSOs desirous of uplinking TV channels to his HITS satellite for down linking and further transmission to the TV homes by the cable operators across the country. The HITS operator in this case need not contract with the broadcasters for content. He only enters into contracts with one or more MSOs or consortium of cable operators desirous of uplinking their aggregated channels from HITS earth station(s) to the HITS satellite.
The head-end set up by MSO is akin to the Earth Station facility of the DTH or HITS operator where the signals are down linked and processed for further distribution.
As in the case of HITS, in case of MSOs also, a head-end can be shared by multiple MSOs. The transport stream generated from one Head-end can be shared by many MSOs with the help of simulcrypting technologies where up to 8 service providers can share a common transport stream. This may not only reduce the CAPEX but also reduce the cost of re-transmission of signals. Increased use of simulcrypting technology may further facilitate set top box interoperability.
Sharing of Optical Fiber/ bandwidth for signal transmission
At present most of the operators re-transmit signals of TV channels using either dedicated fibers or by taking bandwidth on lease from infrastructure providers. Since the optical fiber do not have bandwidth constraints, the same optical fiber can carry signals of two or more set of streams of TV channels. In such a scenario, the Last Mile Operator will be using the streams of TV channels which he has been authorized for re-transmission in its co-axial cable TV network.
Benefits of Infrastructure sharing
The infrastructure sharing may reduce CAPEX and OPEX for the operators. The reduction in CAPEX requirements may bring down the entry barrier to new operators. The enabling of infrastructure sharing using HITS platform may help in making the DAS operations economically viable in rural/ remote areas and faster digitalization of TV services. Similarly, in DTH, the transponder space saved due to sharing of infrastructure may be utilized for meeting requirements of other important communication needs including provision of broadband services especially in hilly and remote areas. This framework may also facilitate introduction of virtual network operators (VNO) in the broadcasting TV distribution sector. VNOs can commercially use the infrastructure of existing network providers and focus on specific consumer needs to ensure better quality of service at an affordable rates.
In addition to the above, the infrastructure sharing will pave the way for competition in the sector.