Trai begins pilot testing for interoperable set-top boxes

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New Delhi: If all goes well, television households may now have interoperable set-top boxes. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has started the pilot testing of interoperable set-top boxes for digital TV broadcasting services which will allow subscribers to use the same set-top box interchangeably between various service providers.

This essentially means that in case a consumer wants to change his cable TV service provider, he need not buy a new set-top box. As many as 15 private companies are participating in the testing process including Dish TV, Siti Networks, Star India and ByDesign India, according to two people familiar with the development.

“Set-top box interoperability is being tested for the first time. Nowhere in the world has it been achieved. There are 15 entities that have come for the pilot. Architecture is in place; the prototype design is ready. We will come out with test results within eight to ten weeks,” one of two people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

This comes a year-and-a-half after the regulator first released a pre-consultation paper to identify issues related to interoperability of set-top boxes and its possible solutions. In May 2016, Trai also engaged 12 technical experts (with the Centre for Development of Telematics, or C-DOT, as its nodal partner) to look into the challenges involved in the interoperability architecture,

The regulator has also sought comments from broadcast industry stakeholders on the proposed architecture of the new set-top boxes.

Media industry executives welcomed the move. “This is extremely helpful for the consumers. Interoperability will also lessen the e-waste across the country. This has been long overdue. The replacement cost, as and when the new set-top boxes hit the market, may be high but we will see how this pans out,” said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India.

Anil Malhotra, chief operating officer at Siti Networks Ltd, agreed. “The need is to make subscribers independent of service providers just like in the case of mobile phones. Customer should have that flexibility. It is yet to be seen how this rolls out,” he said.