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Conditional Access System and its Functionalities

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  • Last Updated : 08 Nov, 2021
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A Conditional Access System or a CA system uses the scrambling and encryption techniques to prevent the reception that is not authorized. 
Scrambling is a process of making the data, photos as well as music incomprehensible. Encryption on the other hand is a process of protecting the data that is sent over a network using keys. The encrypted data is transferred over a scrambled signal. The CA system should be transparent thereby making any defects in the data unrecognizable. The entire CA system is built to know which receiver or set-top decoder delivers the program to the viewers. 

Why Conditional Access Matter? 

Content is present all over the globe. There are a lot of people who try to pirate or access content that they are not entitled to. This is the reason why conditional access systems are so important. They allow the content providers to get paid for their content and also prevent piracy of content. It is especially true for satellite or terrestrial transmission that uses 2-way IP communication between the sender and the recipient. The access needs to be restricted. This is due to the reasons stated below : 

  1. To allow access to specific users who have paid or have to pay for the specific programs.
  2. This is also done to restrict the programs to a particular area, maybe due to popularity or laws such as program rights.

Digital Television Systems 

In order to get paid for their efforts and protect their content and rights, the TV channel providers use the CA system. It gives access to the people who are subscribers and does not give channel access to the non-subscribers. This is done by encryption of the network that is decrypted only if a person meets certain conditions. The CA system providers supply the equipment along with the software to the TV providers who integrate it into their broadcasting systems. CA systems comprise :  

  1. Subscriber Management System- This system is used for sending and receiving all the bill payments to and from the subscribers of the CA system. This contains the information of the users, their names, numbers, and addresses. It handles the billing, any changes in subscriptions, inability to view channels, etc.
  2. Subscriber Authorization System- This system is required so that the users using the Conditional Access System can be verified and identified. This is so done that it can be shared among various service providers. It also encrypts all data that prevents all the sensitive user data from security attacks.
  3. Security Module- The Conditional Access system contains a security module. This is so because it protects the user data such as the name, phone number, and addresses. This is also required to prevent the content from being copied and pirated. Unauthorized access is also prevented using this system.
  4. Set-top box- This is a device that enables access to the decrypted content from the television broadcasters. 
    This is also the device that allows the television connection with the internet.


Conditional Access Systems allows providers to give limited or restricted access to the software. The software here refers to email, applications, documents, and information. It is deployed as a Software as a Service model (SaaS). The entities using CA systems have more control over who accesses the data, what information is retrieved, and how it is retrieved. There can be restrictions such as which browsers are allowed to access data etc. Current providers of Conditional Access include :  

  1. Microsoft Including Office 365 (cloud-based productivity application and services) and Microsoft Intune (provides a productive user experience for business clients)
  2. Azure Active Directory– is a cloud-based service that allows the business entities in their business-related work.
  3. Workspace 365- is a collaboration tool that can be used to collaborate with other products such as MS PowerPoint, MS Word and MS Excel, etc.

Functionality Of Conditional Access System

  1. Ease of use for users- The viewers must be able to use this system very easily. The user must be able to change the channels easily without the need for authentication such as the ID number at every swapping. The picture or video that is available at the change of channels must appear after very little to no delay. A person must at any time have complete access to all the programs that he/she has subscribed to.
  2. Ease of payment of subscription- The ease of payments must be ensured by the CA systems. This is done to make it seamless and convenient for the users to pay for the services. The payment modes must try to be such that it includes all sorts of popular transactions including cash, debit and credit cards, and online payments. The user may want to get a single receipt for all the services provided for a period of time. Such basic needs must also be met.
  3. Security- The CA system must be resilient enough and must provide the security infrastructure. This is done so that the unauthorized viewers are not able to access the unsubscribed channels. Anti-piracy measures and evasion deterrent measures must be provided by the CA system.
  4. Open Market of digital receivers- The audience must be able to make the choice among several set-top boxes according to its will and affordability.

Other Functionalities provided by the CA System include : 

  1. Enable/Disable cards.
  2. Enabling and Disabling Program Services.
  3. Sending messages to decoders.
  4. Showing customers ID cards.
  5. Altering Switching and drop-dead dates.

The basic needs and functionality of the CA systems are well noted. These CA systems are very important for the proper payouts of television providers. These ensure the anti-piracy and authorization of the data and audience respectively. These systems need to be more refined for better performance. 

Conditional Access Solutions And Standards 

Analog content deteriorates with the subsequent transmission but the Digital content is as good as the original even after traveling via various sub-sources. This raises a concern for content creators who wish to be paid fairly for their efforts and who do not want piracy. This is the reason why several standards are followed such as the DigiCipher 2 (DCII) from General Instruments, Nagravision from Nagra Kudelski, and VideoGuard originated from NDS, today named Synamedia. One of the most popular standards is the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard. It is open international standard that is chaired by broadcast-related entities. The DVB-CI (Common Interface) and CI+ standards are responsible for interactions with several CA systems and the DVB-CSA (Common Scrambling Algorithm) standard is responsible for providing ciphers to encrypt the content. Hacking was another concern for the creators, this was imminent with the card-based systems (within 3 to 4 years), however, this is not a concern now after the invention of the Cardless CA system. 

Advantages Of Conditional Access System 

  1. The Conditional Access System allows a person to customize his channels and pay only for what he is interested in.
  2. There are several free to air channels that viewers can see for free. The government is free to fix the maximum price to be paid for such changes.
  3. From the data point of view, a Conditional Access System will provide better information on the viewership.
  4. The popularity of channels can be well assessed by the Conditional Access System. This helps in proper negotiation from entities that wish to place advertisements on such channels.
  5. It is one of the best models that has ever been made that benefits all the parties associated with the Conditional Access System (providers and subscribers).
  6. It would allow the entire cable industry to become unified by bringing together organizations and fair playing ground for all providers.
  7. This new industry has provided jobs to a lot of people.

Limitations of the Conditional Access System 

  1. Conditional Access System has a relatively high cost that needs to be lessened. This can be done by locally manufacturing the set-top boxes and other related equipment.
  2. Variable pricing is good but must not be variable for people viewing the same channel and living in the same city.
  3. Any changes in the Conditional Access System-related judgement should be made without amendment of the law.
  4. There is yet to be changed in the system that allows pay per use type of service where customers only pay for the time they have viewed the channels.
  5. There must be provisions to tackle the problems of no network that occurs during bad weather.
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