The move is likely to help around 6.4 mn subscribers of Dish TV and Tata Sky.
Subscribers to direct-to-home services will soon be able to switch their operators without paying for a new set-top box that comes with every connection and costs Rs 1,500-2,000.
This means once a DTH consumer buys a set-top box, he will be able to access the service of any service provider with technical changes in the box.
The ministry of information and broadcasting has asked the Bureau of Indian Standards to draft norms for advanced DTH set-top box technology, including related to interoperability of the boxes.
The move is likely to help around 6.4 million subscribers of Dish TV and Tata Sky the most as they will be able to take the services of new DTH operators without paying for a new set-top box, say sources.
This is significant because currently only Dish TV and Tata Sky set-top boxes are technically interoperable. This means that their consumers cannot access the signals of other operators like Big TV, Airtel's Digital TV or Sun Direct. DTH licensing norms clearly state that all DTH set-top boxes should be BIS-compliant and interoperable.
The interoperability of Dish TV and Tata Sky has been possible because both use MPEG-2 compression technology and follow BIS norms on the matter.
However, with advancement of DTH compression technology and lack of norms, the set-top boxes of almost all new DTH players that use MPEG-4 advanced compression technology remain non-BIS compliant. "You cannot blame any DTH operator for this.
"The main problem is that there are no interoperability norms for MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 set-top boxes because the BIS has not made any norms for advanced DTH technology," says a senior executive of a leading DTH firm.
"The I&B ministry has been sitting on papers related to interoperability of all types of set-top boxes. Now, with the BIS getting the go-ahead on the matter, the process for formulation of interoperability norms will begin," said a technical head of an existing DTH firm.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had earlier suggested that the onus of providing interoperable DTH set-top boxes should be on old operators like Dish TV and Tata Sky and not on new entrants like Big TV, Digital TV or Sun Direct.
However, this suggestion was not accepted by the I&B ministry, sources said. The meeting between the BIS technical team and the representatives of DTH companies is likely to be held after Diwali, say sources.