Are Android STBs a step too far for India?

MUMBAI: Even as the cable and television industry prepares to take on digitisation, there’s another advanced technology which has arrived rather quietly on Indian shores.

We’re talking Android set top boxes (STBs) from Willett STB Technologies which are in the market since sometime last month. These hybrid STBs carry all the applications available on the Android Play Store and allow customers to switch seamlessly between television and the internet. Given the recent buzz about Google bringing YouTube on TV, such a technology may just be what the doctor ordered. However, for a variety of reasons, the Android STBs don’t seem to be finding enough traction in the industry.

Speaking to, Willett STB Technologies director Deepak Wadhwa refuted the MSOs’ claim that STBs are not upgraded to carry YouTube as a Video-on-demand (VoD) service on television. “The STBs come in different models and frankly, we are ready with the technology. The Android box is the answer to this new development.”

However, Wadhwa was quick to point out that the problem lies in MSOs’ unwillingness to accept the technology. “The MSOs are not ready to promote the boxes. Even though we are ready with the upgraded technology, there are deployment issues,” he said.

So what was keeping MSOs from adopting the new technology? A major reason, according to Wadhwa, was the cost, where each Android STB carried a price tag of Rs 4,000. Additionally, customers would have to pay for video services.

The Willett Android 4.2 STB is a hybrid box, with both Android and DVBC features. “The box allows customers to switch between Android play store and TV channels. It also converts a normal TV to a smart TV,” informed Wadhwa.

Elaborating on the cost factor, he said: “The MSOs are already tied up with MPEG2 boxes. Also in smaller cities, where people are used to viewing TV at Rs 75 to Rs 100, they are opposing STBs which cost Rs 1000, so accepting the Android boxes seems a far thing to imagine.”

Meanwhile, an MSO defended cable operators’ stance saying: “These OTT boxes don’t give us revenue which goes to the service provider instead. So why should we use them?”

Media consultant Sanjeev Hiremath opined: “As far as the cable industry is concerned, technology gets adapted step-by-step. No one is ready to take two steps at a time. Obviously, the advantage of the Android box is that you can incorporate the experience of OTT service also in that. So then you can avoid cable and can directly take a broadband connection and experience both TV and the world of internet. If customers are not ready to pay Rs 1000-2000 for normal STBs, of course they will not buy these at double the rate.”

Maybe, India needs to work towards faster adoption of new technologies just as it has in developing them…

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