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Digitization of TV – An Opportunity to Build an Open Access Future Proof Next Generation TV Network Infrastructure in India

While the digitization of TV is going on in the country and in the digitized TV era, we are going to live forever for TV services, it is important that we have a future proof ecosystem in place. IP in the core, edge and access is there to stay. Copper and coaxial might give way to OFC to give coverage up to the premise, building or curb. As a policy, we need to allow a consumer to choose the Digital Addressable System (DAS) Headend Service Provider (HSP) of his/her own choice. We already provide freedom to a mobile subscriber to change the service provider through the MNP. For TV, Set Top Box (STB) is akin to a mobile hand set and monthly billing for a TV connection might be more than a low end pre-paid mobile connection. Just like a mobile subscriber is free to select the Mobile Network Operator (MNO), a digital TV consumer is also allowed to select the DAS HSP out of the available ones in the dependent geographic service area.

Open Access Digital TV Infrastructure

As this is not mandatory today, thus DAS HSPs are mostly deploying Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) technology both for head end and distribution. For transport of DVB signals from headend to LCO interconnection node, DAS HSPs use optical nodes over fiber. This is rigid and makes a digital TV consumer dependent upon the service of one DAS HSP only. The rest of the world namely US, EU and other countries when they digitized TV, DVB was the only cost effective technology.

India is one of the late entrants in this. This also has an advantage as we can truly deploy a world class future proof NGTVN infrastructure and not follow what rest of the developed world has done. We are known for not very good conceptualization, planning and execution of national level infrastructure projects. Our roads and flyovers before commissioning start getting choked. We need to promote those technologies which allow open access and are future proof. The technologies for digitization of TV are DVB, DTH, IP TV and DTTB. DVB has already proven itself to be the best in head ends and CPEs and IP and/or MPLS have proven to be as universally acceptable underlying technologies for Next Generation Network (NGN). Here is an opportunity to induct DVB and DVB over IP/MPLS selectively to realize a true NGTVN.

Open access IP based technology is highly ubiquitous and affordable. This is an opportunity for us to be future proof. DVB over IP offers best of both the worlds. It uses the proven MPEG Transport Stream (TS) at the head end, and for transmission and distribution, it uses the ubiquitous IP. At the consumer end, it again uses the DVB STB. Such a technology allows even the digital TV consumer to select the DAS HSP. We have more than 60,000 Local Cable Operators (LCOs) and 5000 Multi Service Operators (MSOs). None of them goes out of business and the country gets a state-of-the-art DVB over IP digital TV infrastructure conveniently riding over the Next Generation TV Network (NGTVN). Very minimal incremental cost needs to be incurred by both DAS HSPs and LCOs. For country deploying a future proof digital TV infrastructure so late, even if we have to allow more FDI in this industry, it is worth.

Consumers - Pick and Choose Your Own Digital TV Service Provider

India is now on a national mission for an infrastructure which must be state-of-the-art, scalable, future proof, affordable and above all meet the requirements of all stake holders, i.e., content providers, infrastructure providers, consumers and government. The consumer does not want to be tied down to a particular service provider whether wireless or wire line. A consumer spending 50 L on a flat cannot be told that for your wired telecom needs you have only X service provider, for your wired TV service, you have only Y digital TV provider and only Z as IP TV provider. The government must come out with regulations and policy which only allow open access wire line infrastructure which is already adopted in case of wireless. An open access wire line infrastructure must not be implemented by multiple access operators bringing their own wires into the premise. Instead, it should be done through seamless interconnection at the node where main infrastructure service providers and open access infrastructure service provider actually interconnect. With such infrastructure chain, the consumer has an option to pick the main service provider who is fully equipped with OSS/BSS/CRM/SMS/Pre-paid and gives a better QoS and customer experience. The open access operator like LCO partners the main service provider like DAS HSP. Each open access LCO has main DAS HSPs in the geographic area of the consumer interconnecting with each other at the node and through a simple process, a consumer, if unsatisfied, can change his DAS HSP, and may be within two weeks as against one week for MNP. In case, there are any incremental financial overheads, let these be split between the consumer and the new DAS HSP because open access LCO is really a pass through and he can be compensated suitably for his coordination role by the new DAS HSP as he gets a new customer. To achieve the above, the government must do three things, make open access mandatory over a reasonable period of time, enhance FDI and allow RoW to this industry.

Opportunity for DAS HSPs to Share OSS/BSS/CRM/Pre-paid Infrastructure with Telcos. Creation of NGTVN is a great step. Being ubiquitous, there is a scope for DAS HSPs to share the telcos OSS/BSS/CRM/Pre-paid infrastructure rather than setting up their own. Both telcos and DAS HSPs would get benefitted. Incremental capacity creation of infrastructure costs less and enables better utilization. While both compete in the market place but they share the infrastructure.

Interoperability of STBs

Interoperability of STBs needs to be made mandatory. Both DTH and IP TV have not been able to achieve this due to very lax regulations and possibly costlier technology. Both technological and commercial issues need to be resolved and suitable policy needs to be in place. Subscribers cannot be expected to pay for new STB should they decide to change their DAS HSP. At best, they can pay for overheads involved in the changeover process.

Unlimited Value of Open Access Infrastructure to GDP Growth

Let us look at the wider pay offs of the above for the country's GDP. If the above is implemented, IP truly becomes ubiquitous to 150 million HHs, a stepping stone for world's largest, quickest and cheapest NGN in India. This NGN powers up the rapid proliferation of much needed BWA for which the country is struggling. As against 100 million broadband target, only 13.7 M subs that too majority with 256 kbps, the world's lowest speed qualifying for broadband subscriber has been achieved, making us a laughing stock on all global broadband forums. Government is contemplating NOFN which leaves access up to the operators. We have seen since 1994, how much high speed state-of-the-art access capacity has been created by the national operators. They would build access with 3G, 4G, 5G etc., thus country is left high and dry as virtual education, healthcare services etc. cannot be delivered satisfactorily to very large number of subscribers say for sustained classes to 87 % college dropout students who want to work from 9 am to 5 pm and study graduate and PG courses from 8 pm to 11 pm when they are back at home. Likewise, multispecialty hospital based diagnosis, consultation and prescription services to 70 % HHs can never be provided on wireless alone.

Back haul for Wireless. If India gets truly a NGTVN then IP connectivity would be available at every digital TV House Hold (HH). Minimum 100 million HHs by 2014 get covered by ubiquitous IP infrastructure. Nation has embarked upon creating a National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) through Bharat Broadband. NOFN does not address the access whereas DVB over IP is an end-to-end infrastructure conveniently riding over NGTVN built around NOFN in the core and edge and providing the much needed state-of-the-art access and the last mile. Moreover, Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) providers would be deploying LTE and femto cells. This IP infrastructure would be ready to provide them the much needed back haul oxygen for which telcos are struggling. This is an opportunity for DAS HSPs and LCOs to offer the backhaul connectivity and treat it as an additional revenue opportunity.

Wi-Fi Hot Spots. DAS HSPs along with LCOs can offer a huge number of Wi-Fi hot spots in the country again enabling early penetration of true broadband.

NGTVN Catalyzes GDP Growth Enhancement. Telcos, MSOs, LCOs, DTH operators etc., are all infrastructure providers with voice, data and video as bearer services. While voice is primal in nature, data and video services enable innovators to do unlimited things beyond imagination. Broadcast TV is a specialized form of video service. Digitization of TV exercise (which is already being done through the DTH TV and IP TV services and now getting expanded rapidly by the Over The Top (OTT) players) by the government over cable is an attempt to bring to 150 million HHs (assuming rest of 75 M HHs are shared between DTH and IP TV providers) an affordable QoS with ability to select the programs of one's choice. This is highly an infrastructure exercise, the fruits of which will be enjoyed by the DAS HSPs, LCOs, content providers, consumers, government and nation. This has a potential to catalyze GDP growth driving services like virtual education, virtual healthcare, virtual transportation, e-agriculture, much needed e-governance etc. so heavily dependent upon both true and mobile broadband and would get commercially launched only to boost up the GDP by minimum 2 to 3 %. The country must not miss this opportunity now. TRAI, MIB, MICT (DoT and DIT) must consider these inputs and give the country a future proof NGTVN and consumers the much needed choice to select the digital TV service provider.

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