The I&B Ministry has accelerated the issuing of DAS Phase-3 MSO licences to those who have agreed to accept provisional licences that maybe cancelled anytime. Still, only approx. 30 licences have been issued this month, which is probably a mere 10% of the backlog.........
In the last issue, we went through the hardware equipments required to set up the digital headend system for cable. In this article, we will explore the other important components of a digital CATV system, namely : 1. The Conditional Access System (CAS) 2. The Set Top Box (STB)........
NXT DIGITAL LAUNCHES HITS PLATFORM
The Government has dictated that all cable TV networks in DAS 3 areas (ie. Municipalities and Municipal Corporations not already covered under DAS Phases 1 and 2) must switch off their analog cable TV signals on 1st January, 2016.
Similarly, all cable networks in DAS 4 areas (semi-rural and rural areas that do not have a Municipality) must switch off their analog cable TV signals on 1st January, 2017.
The technical and financial feasibility of these dictates is highly questionable and has threatened the livelihoods of tens of thousands of cable network owners who have invested in this business and grown it during the past 2 decades.
Procurement and operationalising a DAS digital Headend is a long and difficult process that requires expertise in multiple areas and coordination and approval from Pay channel broadcasters. A flow chart indicating the set ut sequence is indicated in Figure 1.
Besides procuring a quality digital headend and STBs, a DAS headend needs to meet the 'Quality of Service' (QoS) norms set by the TRAI. These norms dictate amongst other things the maintenance of 24 x 7 call centre.
Most of these are not only impractical but financially complete unviable for most of the small Cable TV networks in DAS Phase 3 and 4.
Several cable operators have given up hope while others are at a loss regarding how they can sustain business under DAS 3 and 4.
The Hindujas who pioneered India's first cable TV MSO - InCable are now launching NXT Digital, a Headend In The Sky (HITS) satellite based digital distribution system. NXT Digital will cater exclusively to MSO's, LCO's/LMO's (Last Mile Owners) in DAS Phase 3 and 4 areas only.
Tony D'Silva, Managing Director, Grant Investrade Limited, said, "I am delighted to announce that our HITS initiative is called NXT DIGITAL. We believe it will strongly support the laudable national mission to roll out Digital Addressable Systems of broadcasting all over India. We will roll-out the services in August.
"NXT DIGITAL is here to help the distribution fraternity in analog markets make a smooth and timely transition to digital," he told SCaT.
NXT DIGITAL is an initiative of Grant Investrade Limited, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hinduja Ventures Ltd.
A state-of-the-art broadcast facility in Noida has been designed and purpose-built to provide top quality service to the entire country.
NXT DIGITAL undertook in-depth research to find out the requirements of the distribution fraternity. It interviewed over 2000 LMOs, MSOs and their representatives across 120 cities in Phase 3 and 4 markets, and asked each, separately and in person, what they ideally wanted.
"The research threw up six major requirements of the LMOs and MSOs," D'Silva explained, counting them out.
1. Retain ownership of their network;
2. Drive broadcaster deals;
3. Package & Price their offerings according to the local market;
4. Acquire STBs in convenient (small) quantity.
5. Ability to insert local channels, and
6. Have a sophisticated digital service that can compete with DTH.
"That is why we designed NXT DIGITAL to offer a choice of a white label service model and a full service model," D'Silva said.
WHITE LABEL SERVICE
In this model, a MSO or LMO can utilise the entire NXT Digital infrastructure which includes the downlink satellite feed, CAS, SMS, STBs & billing system.
Pay channels can be independently negotiated by the MSO/LMO with the relevant broadcasters. This maybe a viable option for existing MSO's in DAS Phase 3 and 4 who already have established good relations with pay TV broadcasters and are confident that they are getting attractive deals from these broadcasters.
or this 'White Label' service, the MSO/LMO pays NXT Digital ` 20 per month per subscriber.
For small LMO's, NXT Digital also offers a full service package which includes the cost of pay channels.
In this service, the LMO can create his own pay channel bundles and price them to his subscribers as he pleases. Further, each subscriber is authorised/ deauthorised by the LMO, using a simple home PC or tablet or even mobile phone through which he accesses the NXT Digital Subscriber Management System via the internet.
NXT DIGITAL SERVICE
The NXT Digital Hits service promises to deliver 500 TV channels using MPEG-4 compression. Nagra conditional access System (CAS) has been deployed.
The Subscriber Management System is by Hansen which has been globally deployed by some of the largest cable TV networks worldwide including Comcast and Time Warner USA, as well as Videocon D2h in India.
Two separate call centres have been established to separately service the North and South parts of the country based on prevalent languages.
VALUE ADDED SERVICES
Three to four Value Added Services (VAS) will be introduced over the next few months.
Significantly, NXT Digital will also introduce a TV everywhere service delivered via internet to consumer's mobile phones and tablets. The service will allow consumers to watch any of their subscribed channels via the internet, on their mobile phones/tablets even during a power outage or when they are travelling.
LOCAL CHANNEL INSERTION
The NXT Digital platform allows LMO's to insert 8 or 16 of their own local channels for their customers.
The local channels will be listed in the EPG for the LCO's customers, directly at the uplink facility. The local channel names and their content can be included in the EPG through a simple internet link and interface provided by NXT Digital.
Figure 4 indicates the various NXT Digital equipment rack configurations and associated costs.
The costs include everything necessary including a satellite dish. If a dish is not necessary, its cost will be deducted.
The rack typically consumes 500 Watts of Power and functions in a non-airconditioned environment.
NXT Digital has identified 4 companies, 1 each in North, South, East and West of India to sell this equipment to LMO's and provide them local service and support.
GPS BUILT IN
Interestingly each NXT Digital rack includes a built in GPS facility which locates the rack within a resolution of 30 mts. Hence, pay channel broadcasters are assured that service opted by a particular LMO cannot be shifted/ mis-utilised in a different location. This is a key requirement for NXT Digital to approach broadcasters for special, concessional pricing to cable networks in DAS 3 and DAS 4 areas.
According to its survey, a key requirement was for LCO's to be able to purchase STBs in small quantities, if required.
Cable TV networks typically need to rotate their limited funds by buying STBs in small quantities and selling them to consumers.
NXT Digital STBs can be bought in lots of just 20 STBs (one carton). All STBs are sold and not leased hence they become the property of the MSO/LMO. All NXT Digital STBs are MPEG-4 and include a USB port for a memory drive or external hard disk on which programmes can be recorded. The approximate STB prices are:
♦ Standard Definition STB ` 1,400
♦ High Definition (HD) STB ` 1,800
Special power supplies have been designed for these STBs which accommodate the large voltage swings under Indian conditions and each STB has a 1 year warranty. Two additional years of warranty (i.e. 3 years total) can be availed of for an incremental amount.
NXT Digital has appointed separate STB vendors in each region to ensure quick delivery and local service.
In keeping with the TRAI's dictate, STBs will be activated only after receiving the subscription payment and the completed KYC form.
LCO's are at liberty to lease/hire the STBs or offer them on outright purchase at whatever price they feel is appropriate for the local market.
LCO SPECIFIC STB
All STBs are authorised and operational only in that particular LCO's system. They will not operate if they are shifted to any other LCO, even under the NXT Digital Hits footprint.
If a consumer shifts to another location/ network, the STB can be re-authorised at the new NXT Digital location after prior approval from the original LMO.
NXT Digital seems to have arrived at an excellent system and solution that is ideal for MSO's and cable operators in DAS 3 and 4 areas.
It is unfortunate that licence approvals have taken so long. However, once the GOPA final clearance was received from the Government on 14th July, NXT Digital has moved in double quick time, to launch their system before 15th August. n