The DTH (Direct-to-home) service providers and cable operators have launched a price war to attract customers.
However, customers are at a loss when they switch providers, as the amount paid for set-top boxes (between Rs. 1,700-2,200) is non-refundable.
To overcome the issue, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is introducing 'set-top box portability' to enable customers to switch providers without replacing set-top boxes.
Set-top box portability in India
TRAI has been working on interoperability of set-top boxes
The set-top box (STB) portability, similar to mobile number portability, would be launched in 2018.
TRAI Chairman RS Sharma said they engaged Department of Telecommunications' Centre for Development of Telematics (CDoT) for developing "a prototype and technology architecture for interoperability of set-top boxes."
CDoT has developed a prototype, and they would now explore how to replicate and transfer the technology for commercial use.
TRAI to take all stakeholders into consideration
TRAI Chairman Sharma 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."
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Cost is another big consideration, says Sharma
The cost of a set-top box depends on the DTH provider; it currently costs between Rs. 1,700-2,200.
The high cost and the non-refundable STB charges are the reason why customers do not switch operators even when they face issues.
Sharma said STB cost has to be reduced, but if it continues at the same price, portability would be an added advantage.
TRAI will first demonstrate the technology's robustness
Sharma said they would soon start demonstrating the new "robust and efficient" technology to stakeholders.
Subsequently, TRAI will discuss cost-related issues and seek their views before making its recommendations.
The technology encapsulates operator-specific requirements in the smart card and other details in the STB so that when customers switch providers, they only need to charge the card and not the box.
The new STBs to be made in India
He said they expect to solve the matter through discussions with service providers and operators in the next six months.
He added they hope to introduce the portability service in 2018; however, the finalization depends on several factors.
TRAI brought out a pre-consultation paper last year
The TRAI had earlier brought out a pre-consultation paper on the interoperability issue of set-top boxes in Feb'16.
It prescribed the framework for commercial interoperability, tariff order, customer equipment, etc.
At that time, the regulator said it wants to allow interoperability as it will help customers and also promote the competition between operators while simultaneously improving the service quality.
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