Cable TV

145 days to go....are you ready for CAS?

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There is a lot of talk within the CATV industry currently on Analogue and Digital and different perceptions floating around as to the advantages and disadvantages in both types of technology together with how these different technologies will affect the cable operators and broadcasters alike.

From spending the last few years here in the Indian market, I can say that there is definitely a perception that digital is more secure than analogue. What is it about digital that makes it more secure? It's not, as thought by many, the transmission medium i.e. the fact that digital transport streams are sent down the line. In fact, it is the way in which the data and video is encrypted, Digital scrambling. It is a fact that there are many digital systems which have been pirated and hacked today as well as many analogue systems. Therefore you can only say that there are some secure digital systems and some secure analogue systems.

Unfortunately there are many other disadvantages that go with a typical digital system/network that are particular to the current Indian scenario.

1. The cost of the Set Top Box. - the cost of the STB will have a huge effect on Cable operators and Broadcasters as ultimately this will result in slower penetration and will force the franchises to break away due to the lack of funds that will be required to upgrade the Last Mile. With a more expensive STB, the consumer will probably be forced to cut down on the monthly subscriptions because of the initial outlay.

Of course, the cheaper analogue boxes will rollout much faster, leave the subscriber with more money to spend on subscriptions, allow the franchises to continue running as they are with current last mile networks and provide the franchisee a key role to play in the deployment and installation process needed for CAS.

2.    The Cable Operator will be forced to invest more in headend equipment resulting in longer returns on investments especially in an industry where technology can change quickly. There will be the need for further upgrades to the existing networks to enable 100% digital transmission to each and every subscriber.

The investment needed for analogue headends are atleast 20% of that needed for the digital, ensuring faster returns on investments and almost no upgrading of current networks.

3.    One main advantage of using digital technology is to introduce Value Added Services. Most these VAS's require return path networks meaning not only more upgrades for the Cable network but also new expensive STBs for the consumer. The low cost digital boxes which are being floated around the operators are very simple, no frill STBs with no middleware and the only way to upgrade these boxes is to refurbish the actual STB back in a factory. Of course the other factor which must be taken into consideration is how many subscribers will actually pay for these VAS.

Since the subscriber will almost certainly have to change STB when he wants these VAS it makes more commercial sense to offer the cheaper analogue box which will create faster revenues that will in turn give you the time and money needed for the upgrading of networks and VAS. Many VASs are also possible on the analogue networks it is just that more bandwidth is needed.

4.    Today in India, there is not one single Digital headend and most of the technical personnel have only limited experience and product knowledge about digital technology. All Cable operators are also looking for the cheapest solution, especially in digital and this generally can only be achieved by using different manufacturers and suppliers for the headend equipment, STB and CA provider. This in turn can has huge potential in causing problems when the system fails as each manufacturer will blame the next person.

Most analogue systems provide a turnkey solution and therefore are more likely to respond to any problems that may arise not to mention the thousands of headends that are currently only running analogue networks.

5. Most people are also under the impression that digital gives a much better picture, which is true but you also have to take into consideration that the digital system is less tolerant to cable conditions and will either give you a good picture, a freezing picture or no picture.

The analogue network is much more robust and tolerant of all cable conditions. For the subscriber who is currently getting a good quality picture from the analogue network is happy and for those subscribers who are getting very poor quality picture from the existing networks are the ones whom will ultimately get the freezing or worst still, NO picture from the digital system.

All said, it is equally important to realise that the basic analogue boxes, especially around the price range that the previous I & B minister has been quoting (1500 Rs), have also major disadvantages to the industry although most come down to the single case about piracy or hacking. There are many ways in which you can pirate a system from the reverse engineering of sync suppression analogue systems to simply making duplicate smart cards for the digital systems. The difference of a "Hack" is when the source code has been broken. The results though are the same in each case and that being that ultimately the subscriber has the option to watch all channels for free therefore defeating the object of PAY-TV.

It is a fact that 80% of cable networks world wide are still using analogue. Of the other 20%, 75% of those cable networks charge more than $25/month in subscription revenues.

DALVI uses the best from both worlds incorporating digital scrambling with the robustness of the analogue transmission system. We use only embedded software defeating the option of duplicate smart cards, we use cut and rotate video encryption which is considered the best form of video encryption and combine it with many highly secure high Bit algorithms that protects our encryption and software. This together with our other key advantages makes it one of the best solutions for the Indian market.

We have carried out successful extensive tests on all types of local networks over the last two years and are confident that our product is the best solution for all cable operators in India. We are currently active in over 25 countries world-wide and have extensive experience in Conditional Access Systems which can not be bypassed overnight.

I think it only fair to say that I am not saying that there is no place in the Indian market for Digital as the future is digital. What I am saying is that the future of digital is not on, or before July 14, 2003; it is clear that for digital to be successful in India it will take longer maybe another 18 months - two years, maybe longer. In the meantime, all cable operators, large and small, must comply with government regulations and have their Conditional Access Systems in place and turned on by July or risk the option of losing their subscriber to a cable operator who is ready and turned on. DALVI is also finalising its digital solution that will enable a smooth upgrade from analogue to digital for those consumers who wish to migrate. We will of course be using as much of the same equipment as possible for this transition.

Time is ticking and orders need to be placed just to make sure that delivery of the system can be with you in time, installed and deployment started.

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