Set top boxes may become interoperable

5 Apr 2016 | By Achin Garg

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has started a pre-consultation process to have Set-Top Boxes (STBs) used interchangeably between service providers in the country.

This will allow the consumers to switch between the service providers without changing their STB, something which is not currently possible.

TRAI has sought comments from various stakeholders by 29th April regarding issues, challenges, industry's concern and possible solutions.

In context: Inter-operability of set-top boxes

Introduction What is a set-top box (STB)?

A STB is a device that receives a digital signal, decodes it and then displays it on a TV screen.

It converts the video signals to analog or digital TV signals.

The term is derived from cable boxes that "sat on top" of TVs.

Earlier, STBs were mainly used for satellite or cable TVs, but now they have two-way communication and incorporate internet access.

Current scenario

Currently, set-top boxes are tied to specific distribution platform operators (DPO) such as Tata sky DTH, Videocon DTH, Airtel DTH, etc. and cannot be interchanged across various service providers like mobile phones.
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What is the need for interoperability of STBs?

Need What is the need for interoperability of STBs?

According to a report, there are 85 million set-top boxes in the country, of which, 30 million remain unused because of lack of interoperability.

Interoperability will be consumer friendly as it will allow consumers to change operators without the cost implication of purchasing a new set top box.

It will also help in reducing the e-waste generated due to unused and discarded set-top boxes.

Diversity of service providers in the country

According to TRAI, India has 6 Direct-To-Home (DTH) operators, 2 Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) operators, 2 Head-End In The Sky (HITS) operators and numerous Multi-System Operators (MSO) providing pay TV services.

5 Apr 2016Set top boxes may become interoperable

Challenges Experts raise apprehension over interoperability

According to Jawahar Goel, MD, Dish TV, while interoperability is possible in a two-way communication like mobile, DTH is a one-way technology.

Hence, it is not possible to have common STBs for different service providers.

Vikki Choudhry, head of Home Digital Network, says that interoperability is technically not possible and does not happen anywhere in the world. It can even violate content security.