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Digital Set Top Boxes, part of DTH services, a rising problem

Bapun Raz

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DTH services in India have registered a very impressive growth since its inception in the year 2003. However, the increased number of DTH operators and standards has recently raised the concern of set top box STB technical interoperability. With the advent of satellite TV, STB has become an essential component of reception equipment. A STB after demodulating, decrypting and decompressing the bit stream, converts the digital signal to analog signal so as to enable a viewer to watch content on analog television. Moreover, it provides a host of services to enhance television viewing experience. Unfortunately Set Top Boxes are designed as proprietary, and not as open architecture as stipulated in licensing norms, to suit specific DTH networks. Non-interoperability is not only an unethical business practice but a gross violation of the terms and conditions of the licenses issued by the Ministry of I&B and contravention of the Quality of Service Regulations of TRAI (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India). The relevant conditions as per DTH license agreement are as under the Clause 7 Technical Standards and Other Obligations, Clause7.1 and 7.2 are: 7.1 The Open Architecture (non-proprietary) Set Top box, which will ensure technical compatibility and effective interoperability among different DTH service providers, shall have such specifications as laid down by the Government from time to time. 7.2 The Licensee shall ensure subscribers’ interests through a Conditional Access System (CAS), which is compatible with an Open Architecture (non- proprietary) Set Top Box. They lay out effective interoperability among different DTH service providers, to provide an easier exit route for the existing DTH subscriber to subscribe services of another DTH operator or any other available distribution platform. Generally speaking, a subscriber is able to choose the service provider after evaluating prices, quality and range of services and this choice is one of the reasons for the substantial growth of DTH services in the recent years. With the increase in the subscriber base, DTH operators have been increasing the number of TV channels and value added services on their respective networks. It also leads to a situation where subscribers may like to switch-over from his DTH operator to another operator for better quality of service, availability of value added services or better pricing offers. In case of a switch-over from one operator to another, the subscriber who already possesses the mini dish, set top box and accessories, commonly called as Customer Premises Equipment (CPE), may like to have an option of retaining the same CPE and
take services from a different DTH operator. This is known as technical interoperability. Alternatively, the subscriber may like to surrender the available CPE to the existing service provider and get back money as per pre-defined agreement and then take the appropriate CPE from another DTH service provider. This type of interoperability is called as commercial interoperability. Non-interoperability also raised the environmental hazard dimension, citing estimates that dead STBs, on account of migration of consumers from one DTH provider to another, were in excess of 2 million
and constituted voluminous electronic junk that was neither recyclable nor biodegradable. Besides, interoperability facilitates the subscriber migration from one operator to another operator and there would be least cost involved in such migration too. Moreover, interoperability norms are meant to allow third party manufactures to independently sell STBs like in the case of GSM mobile phones. This in turn invites competition among STB manufactures and help in lowering the cost of STBs.



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