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Soon Change Your DTH Operator, Without Replacing the Set Top Box

Direct-to-home players like Tata Sky and Airtel will operate in a new ecosystem, where users can sign up via SMS.

Published
Tech News
4 min read
This device could soon become standard equipment for DTH users in India.
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The set top box lying in your living room is soon going to evolve in such a way that you won’t have to buy a new device, every time you switch your direct-to-home (DTH) operator.

This idea isn’t new, as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been working to make it a reality over the past two years. Its efforts are most likely to bear fruit by end of 2019, as informed by RS Sharma, Chief, TRAI quoted in a report in The Hindu earlier this year.

Until now, people have heard about these developments, but a few weeks back, we came across one prototype set top box (STB) which is likely to be adopted by DTH players like Airtel, Tata Sky and Dish TV among others.

The C-DOT or the Centre for Development of Telematics has been working behind the scenes to come up with a product that can deliver on TRAI’s objective, that is, interoperability in the DTH sector.

This interoperability of the set top box will ensure that users can switch from Tata Sky to Dish TV, without having to buy company-specific boxes. TRAI, through its detailed consultation report on the subject has pointed out that replacing the STB also leads to electronic waste, which adds to the rising pollution issue in the country.

C-DOT, the telecom technology development centre of the Government of India, in close coordination with TRAI, has developed a solution for interoperable STBs. In addition to this, they are working as knowledge partners to TRAI towards developing a framework for STB interoperability.
TRAI report on STB interoperability

But the main role of this change is entrusted to the chip-based card, which brings the STB to life. C-DOT framework is based on an operator-specific detachable smart card approach. This card is similar to the SIM card one uses in mobile phones, with the exception of the networks they are tuned to work on.

Chip-based cards will be switched depending on the network provider.
Chip-based cards will be switched depending on the network provider.
(Photo: The Quint)

Both TRAI and C-DOT have worked on a model that is interoperable, yet, has been configured in such a way where only a few parties can adopt this methodology.

The STB is not to be tied to any specific service operator and at the same time, it cannot be a fully generic configurable platform with the superset capabilities and the total software configuration, given the constraints of equipment being based in customer premises.

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The change in set top boxes is going to affect how a person gets hold of the device for their household. Using a chip-based DTH box, will ensure that a user can get everything activated, after due clearances, just with a one-time password (OTP), shared only with the assigned user and the assignee DTH operator.

An interested user will be required to send an SMS and fill out an application form, the regulatory body has mentioned.

C-DOT has designed the prototype version of the STB.
C-DOT has designed the prototype version of the STB.
(Photo: The Quint)
“The scheme proposed here mainly focuses on the downloading of profiling data from the smart card and also over the air to the STB and pushing Conditional Access System (CAS) implementation entirely from STB to smart card. The STB shall have limited configurable features to support the operator specific requirements.”
TRAI report on STB interoperability

To make the STB platform-agnostic, TRAI wants to have a unified back-end platform, which will be able to receive and decode/display signals from multiple operators. This will be undertaken via a trusted authority, who will offer security codes to the operator, as well as the STB manufacturers.

This box will be shared with DTH manufacturers and sold to the consumer.
This box will be shared with DTH manufacturers and sold to the consumer.
(Photo: The Quint)
“Use of a centralised TA (Trusted Authority) to allocate certificates / security codes to operators and STB manufacturers.”
TRAI report on STB interoperability
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This will ensure the devices will be future compatible, in terms of migration of operators. For everything else, mostly hardware related (upgrading to 4K), the users will have to upgrade their device.

Preparing for the Future

C-DOT is making sure it doesn’t waste any more time with future-ready STBs, which is why, it has come out with a smart hybrid STB as well, similar to what Airtel and Reliance JioFiber have adopted for their services.

As you see below, this prototype supports IR blaster, which ensures that you can control the TV via a smartphone (with built-in IR blaster) or a universal remote as well.

Hybrid DTH set top box for the future.
Hybrid DTH set top box for the future.
(Photo: The Quint)

On the sidelines of the India Mobile Congress (IMC) 2019, C-DOT showed us an open-source platform running on the STB prototype, which supports non-Google products. However, we’re not sure about side-loading apps, especially because of its security and privacy concerns.

Android running on the hybrid set top box without Google Play Store.
Android running on the hybrid set top box without Google Play Store.
(Photo: The Quint)

As of now, we’re hopeful that TRAI will be able to meet its 2019 deadline for a rollout of the platform-agnostic STBs.

For this, the regulatory body will have to submit the reference design and software architecture to the DTH operators. The operators will then decide how to price these devices and function in a world that removes their scope to make money from selling different set top boxes to a user who wants to switch connections.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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