Regulators

TRAI's consultation: DPOs favour defined CAS/SMS framework; Tata Sky, Airtel, IMCL differ

TRAI issued a consultation paper seeking comments on CAS and SMS in April

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MUMBAI: Conditional access system (CAS) and subscriber management systems (SMS) are two key pillars of delivering broadcast services in a secured and encrypted manner to authorised subscribers. However, existing technical requirements for CAS and SMS are generic in nature allowing all type of CAS and SMS systems to exist in the eco-system. Piracy in the distribution of signals occurs due to the deployment of CAS or SMS that do not comply with security protocols as per extant standards. Hence, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a consultation paper seeking comments on CAS and SMS.

In response to the consultation paper, most major distribution platform operators (DPOs) have agreed that there is a need to define a framework for CAS/SMS systems to benchmark the minimum requirements of the system before these can be deployed by any DPO.

Siti Networks has strongly agreed to the need of a framework commenting, “It has been observed that SMS and CAS vendors demand exorbitant amount for upgradation of their CAS/SMS according to the mandatory requirements of the regulations and the service providers does not have any option other than agree to their blackmailing due to the compliance requirement. Any such statutory upgradation in the system should not be burdened on the service providers.”

Another major MSO, DEN Networks, also thinks that defining the framework for benchmarking the CAS or SMS will help DPOs to choose the right solution. There are various factors in CAS which differs from vendor to vendor as they use proprietary solutions to address the content security.

GTPL Hathway also reflects the same tone as it says there is certainly an urgent need to define a framework for CAS/SMS systems. It adds that currently all CAS/SMS systems largely vary in terms of both security features and performance features.

“Under the appliable regulations, DPOs are mandated to grant their customers a free choice to make their own package(s). However, it is pertinent to mention that most CAS available in the market have an upper limit to the number of packages in which the same service/channel can be repeated. Therefore, it is necessary that CAS should be able to be upgraded for offering all services and combinations thereof, available on such platform. Availability of full technical local support in India. Almost all CAS vendors have their experts based out-of-India which may affect DPO’s QoS as the availability of off-shore resources may sometime take time as they help remotely,” it adds.

Among the DTH platforms, Dish TV also voiced for a comprehensive framework for CAS/SMS system especially for the requirement of end-to-end content protection and transparency in business for the CAS side and an end-to-end business enablement from the SMS side. It has also recommended an operating model wherein the DPO should have direct contract with each stack-holder viz. CAS service provider, SoC/Chipset maker, middleware, security element provider and STB maker wherein the CAS vendor will be as one of stack holder in entire echo system like others. 

However, Tata Sky holds a different view. According to the operator, it may be premature to assume that the CAS or SMS systems require benchmarking right now. It adds that existing audits could be successful in identifying the systematic gaps which would force those specific DPOs to upgrade their systems to continue to receive signals from the broadcasters. 

“We would need to be careful that a new and stringent regulation does not get misused to disenfranchise a large number of DPOs thus leading to another round of subscriber shock and dissatisfaction. If it is still concluded that a framework for benchmarking of the system needs to be created, then it should be arrived at by a multi stake holder consensus approach,” it adds.

Airtel, which also runs a sizable DTH business, states that the basic and minimum requirements of CAS/SMS are well captured in Schedule III of TRAI regulation. It adds that CAS /SMS being a globally deployed technology, innovations are a constant feature. 

"To start with, Airtel believes that TRAI can continue to use Schedule III requirements for the CAS /SMS while adding more features to it at regular intervals to make it more robust and to accommodate new innovations in the technology. Hence, there is no need for defining or introducing a new CAS /SMS framework. The requirements listed in Schedule III should be benchmarked as the minimum qualifying requirements for all CAS /SMS solutions operating in India as well as for all future deployment of CAS/SMS by a new DPO,” it states.

While most MSOs are in favour of a framework, IMCL holds same opinion as Tata Sky and Airtel. “We believe that subject to the CAS/SMS/STB meeting the requirements specified in Schedule III, there is no need for any further assessment or benchmarking of products required in order for DPOs to deploy them within their networks. At most the regulator can “recommend” some preferred products, but there should not be any limit to DPOs being able to purchase or even build their own solutions subject to the requirements specified in Schedule III being met,” it comments. 

IMCL also highlights that migrating to a new SMS platform as selected by TRAI would result in heavy costs being incurred, customisations having to be re-built into any new platform and large migration exercises to move customers to the new platform. Hence, its portals or mobile applications that are built to support LCOs, MSOs, subscribers and engineering staff would all need to be re-built in order to work with a new SMS platform. This change will result in essentially re-building the business from scratch taking away the business from other revenue-generating activities. 

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