DTT is here: what you need to know - TechCentral

DTT is here: what you need to know


It’s finally happened. South Africa this week launched digital terrestrial television (DTT), ushering in a new chapter in the country’s broadcasting history, but one that has arrived many years later than promised.

Communications minister Faith Muthambi on Monday announced the commencement of “dual illumination”, a period where both analogue and digital signals will coexist for a period of time, finally allowing broadcasters to launch commercial services.

MultiChoice was first out of the gate, on Wednesday debuting the 12-channel GOtv “Value” bouquet (and a two-channel “Lite” option).

The SABC did not respond to a request for comment about its plans, while e.tv said in an e-mail that the start of dual illumination “requires that the e.tv channel is available on the DTT network”, something it has done, and that more channels will follow “in due course”.

Though government has announced the start of dual illumination — a process all countries that are switching from analogue to digital must go through — it has not yet announced the all-important date when the analogue signals will be switched off.

Existing and prospective wireless broadband operators — including the big mobile network operators — are waiting on tenterhooks for that date. When analogue switch-off happens, it will free up tracts of valuable radio frequency spectrum that will be reassigned for broadband.

Telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele has promised to provide a policy directive by 31 March on how this “digital dividend” spectrum, and other important frequencies, will be allocated by communications regulator Icasa.

Telecoms operators have grown increasingly impatient at the years-long delays in South Africa’s digital migration project, which have occurred as a result of, among other things, a high turnover of government ministers, legal wrangling over encryption between commercial broadcasters (with e.tv is still pursuing a case against Muthambi at the supreme court of appeal), fights between black-owned set-top box manufacturers and a protracted dispute over which broadcasting standard the country should adopt.


However, significant progress has been made in the past year, in spite of vehement objections from e.tv and other parties to Muthambi’s decision to drop encryption in government-subsidised set-top boxes. The first boxes have started rolling off local manufacturers’ production lines as part of the not uncontroversial plan to provide free boxes to 5m indigent households at a cost of billions of rand. How long dual illumination will last will depend on how quickly consumers take up digital services.

Dave Hagen, technical director for DTT at M-Net, estimated that there are 14m television households in South Africa. Of those, 5m will get free set-top boxes from the government. Of the remaining 9m, 5m already have access to a digital platform such as DStv or StarSat, or the free-to-air OpenView HD, leaving 4m homes, or about 28% of the total, that may need to acquire a digital set-top box through retail channels.

“That’s where the challenge comes in,” Hagen said. He said even 36 months for dual illumination would be “highly optimistic”. But that is not something the mobile operators want to hear, he added.

Another big challenge, Hagen said, is that a majority of the 5m households that qualify for a free set-top box don’t have an SABC television licence, which costs R265/year. Yet having a licence is a requirement when claiming a free box, a fact that could act as a significant brake on adoption.

  • This piece was first published in the Sunday Times


  1. Padraigin Eagle on

    Tell-Lie-Vision Doubling Down: Illuminating the sheople, good luck with that

    And I prefer the ‘sat-top box’ varietal at no charge. But then that’s just me, Durban lads be strange like that.

  2. tongue in cheek on

    so, does this mean that 1 set top box will deliver all these options -providing you pay the monthly/quaterly/annual fee’s to the relevant “supplier”? and what cost and where (when)would one get these boxes

  3. Wonder if the GoTV box will allow reception of the other FTA channels if the subscription isn’t paid up?

  4. “Another big challenge, Hagen said, is that a majority of the 5m households that qualify for a free set-top box don’t have an SABC television licence, which costs R265/year. Yet having a licence is a requirement when claiming a free box, a fact that could act as a significant brake on adoption.”
    I mentioned already a few times on this platform I don’t believe the present ANC government is at all serious to hand out 5 m free STBs to poor households, and at the same time seriously request recipients to have a valid TV license.
    I believe it was somewhere March or April 2015, when Zami Nkosi of USAASA, the state agency that deals with the production and distribution of free STBs, appeared on SABC news stating that they will not be very strict about asking for a valid license when handing over the free receivers.
    When poor households would be obliged to keep on paying their yearly TV license, they better purchase an OVHD decoder plus install a dish.Much cheaper on the long run.

    Not only have I been advocating the privatisation of the SABC for years, long before the DA came up with that idea, but I have been in favour of scrapping the whole TV license system. Only 8% of SABC revenue is derived from the license fees any way..

  5. William Stucke on

    I quite agree about scrapping the TV Licence fees. They are based on an archaic piece of regulation that no one seems to “own” any more. There is no obvious mechanism to change it.

    They are quite likely unconstitutional in that they: –

    1) Have no prescription period. If you had a licence 57 years ago, the SABC can claim all 57 years. Plus interest.

    2) There is no easy mechanism to cancel your licence – e.g. if you no longer own a TV, a sworn affidavit isn’t enough. A “licensed” (How? Under what legislation?) TV Repair Person has to attest that your TV is no longer operable. The fact that you threw it away 5 years ago is just tough.

    3) I could go on …

    They are, of course, like everything else in this RICA-mad country, subject to identity theft. I found myself the unwilling owner of a TV licence a few years ago, when upgrading TVs. Madam’s licence had been “taken over” by someone with a different name, different face, different skin colour, but purportedly the same ID number.

    Five years later, she’s still exchanging (ever so polite) abusive emails with the SABC 😉
    And no, it’s not “the right thing to do”

  6. I don’t need to know, I’m not paying for rubbish cheap made in china set top boxes. More currency leaving the country, so the Chinese can consume Rhinos horn as a delicacy.

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