From next year, users will be able to switch their DTH (direct-to-home) service providers and cable operators without changing their STB. This will be similar to mobile number portability where users can switch telecom service providers while retaining their mobile numbers. CDoT (Centre for Development of Telematics), under the Department of Telecommunications, has readied a prototype to showcase the technology for interoperability of STBs.

“We had a meeting with CDoT in the last week of July in Bengaluru. CDoT is the agency which we had engaged for developing a prototype and technology architecture for interoperability of set-top boxes. They have completed work largely to our satisfaction,” R S Sharma, chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). TRAI has been working on this issue for some time now. After building the prototype, we now have to explore how to replicate it and how to transfer technology for production i.e., commercial use, he said. “We will take all stakeholders into consideration. Piracy is an important concern here, especially for broadcasters. We will talk to them and develop a clear understanding so that there are no holes in the system which can be compromised with,” the chairman said, adding cost is another big consideration.

Currently, a STB costs Rs 1,700-2,200, depending on the service provider. The amount is non-refundable. This high cost of a STB is the main reason why people are not able to change their service provider if they have service issues. “Broadly, the cost has to be less than existing or even if it is the same price, it will have portability advantage. People like a product which has the same price but with an added advantage,” Sharma said.

Now that the technology is ready, TRAI will first demonstrate its robustness to all stakeholders. Subsequently, the next step will be cost and then a consultation process where it will seek views of all before firming its own recommendations on the issue. The technology is very robust and works efficiently, he said. The new technology will encapsulate all operator specific requirements in a smart card and generic details in the box, so when one person changes to another service provider, he just needs to change the card without changing the STB.

When asked where would the production of these new boxes will take place, he commented, “It will be a part of Make in India.” We expect to conclude this issue in the next 5-6 months and hopefully, people will be able to use this service by next year, he said. Though the finalization of the issue is dependent on many factors, he added.

Dish TV, Bharti Airtel, Tata Sky, Reliance Group, Videocon and Sun Direct are the major players in DTH (direct-to-home) space. A pre-consultation paper on set-top box interoperability was earlier brought out by TRAI in February 2016.- Dna India