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New Delhi: The telecom regulator has hired 12 experts to look into the technological challenges involved in allowing subscribers to use the same set-top box (STB) for different service providers, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma said on Wednesday.

Currently, STBs are tied to specific distribution platform operators such as direct-to-home and local cable operators. “Since interoperability is a technology issue, we have got on board a number of professors from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) and other institutes to look at STB interoperability from a technology perspective," Sharma told reporters.

The team will include experts from IIT Bombay, Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore), and the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT). Such a move comes after various stakeholders pointed to technical hurdles in response to Trai’s pre-consultation paper on STB interoperability issued in April.

These stakeholders included broadcasters, distribution platform operators, local cable operators, direct-to-home (DTH) operators and subscribers. According to the comments uploaded on the official website of Trai, the stakeholders have said that interoperability is not feasible because the STBs used by each of the DTH and cable operators vary in architecture, technology and functionality.

“When we moved this idea, a lot of people said that this is not possible," Sharma said. “But we have been told (by the experts) that this issue is essentially doable."

According to Sharma, STBs have proprietary components that vary from operator to operator, while there are certain components that are common. “We are trying to figure out whether these two could be separated," he said.

The regulator has also conducted certain lab tests. According to Sunil K. Gupta, principal advisor at Trai, the tests have shown positive results for interoperability between the STBs which have the same encryption systems. This means that interoperability among the STBs of different cable operators or of different direct-to-home operators is possible.

“Going from cable to DTH or DTH to cable, there are hurdles and we have to work strongly on them," Gupta said.

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