The Mobile TV Consortium has been granted a licence to test the Korean standard for mobile television, digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB), in SA.
The consortium, controlled by businessman Richard Moloko’s Moloko Investment Group and backed by high-profile shareholders including former Telkom chairman Shirley Lue Arnold, says it expects to have a service ready for pilot in about a month.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) barred the Mobile TV Consortium from participating in the first round of bidding for mobile television licences, awarded earlier this year, because it did not have a full broadcasting licence.
MultiChoice and e.tv were granted licences in a first multiplex, or chunk of radio frequency spectrum used for broadcasting, after a controversial process that resulted in several other players dismissed from the race.
However, in the next few years the regulator is expected to open the doors to another round of mobile TV licensing and Mobile TV Consortium chairman Mothobi Mutloatse says the organisation plans to be ready.
“We are preparing ourselves for when the authority opens the next multiplex for licensing because we are hoping it will be available to new entrants in the market,” says Mutloatse.
In the meantime, the authority has granted the consortium a 12-month licence to test DMB, which has been adopted by several European countries, including Italy, Germany and France.
Mutloatse says the equipment to run the test will arrive in the next week, and the consortium must make the relevant plans with public signal distributor Sentech before the tests can start.
However, he says it shouldn’t take longer than a month before a test service will be ready to go.
The introduction of the new standard could darken an already muddy debate around digital television standards for terrestrial TV, which has been raging in SA in recent months.
The SA broadcasting industry is on the verge of migrating from analogue to digital terrestrial television. However, two standards are competing to bring digital services to local TV sets — the DVB-T standard, developed in Europe and widely used across the world, and a Brazilian adaptation of a Japanese standard called ISDB-T.
Both standards have mobile television versions, and the introduction of the Korean mobile standard may raise the hackles of the Brazilian representatives given the country’s pitch to draw SA into using ISDB is based on its mobile TV capabilities.
However, Mutloatse says the Mobile TV Consortium is not getting involved in the mudslinging over which standard is best. “We were impressed with the technology and decided to bring a test to SA to provide choice to the market,” he says.
However, he says the Korean service is best suited to the SA climate and has a fully tested track record that can be aligned to the local market.
According to Mutloatse, there are already 300 devices to choose from in Korea, all at reasonable price points.
He says the interactivity was one of the primary reasons the consortium decided to test the standard. “It has enhanced digital radio services and the interactive television services are interesting.”
Korea has enjoyed an explosion in mobile television subscribers in the past three years. In 2008, subscribers grew 60% to 17,2m off the back of aggressive marketing for the Beijing Olympics. That grew to 22m by mid-2009.
Despite the rapid growth, Korean broadcasters were forced to switch their go-to-market strategy because healthy subscriber numbers were not being converted to revenue.
Korean broadcasters initially relied on advertising to bring in the money. However, poor advertising sales meant they had to start charging subscriptions.
Mutloatse says SA can learn from Korea’s experience. — Candice Jones, TechCentral