More delays hit digital TV programme - TechCentral

More delays hit digital TV programme

Andrew Fraser

Andrew Fraser

The delay in the switch-over to digital terrestrial television (DTT) is symptomatic of the government’s ineffective implementation of policy, says an analyst.

Department of communications programme manager Solly Mokoetle told a joint meeting of parliamentary committees last month that orders are imminent for set-top boxes (STBs).

STBs are the devices required for decoding digital signals for analogue television sets.

“The programme manager of the DTT programme told a joint meeting of three parliamentary committees on 11 August that the orders for the STBs would be placed with suppliers ‘this month’,” said Andrew Fraser, former marketing head of Sony Mobile and TV show producer.

“True to form, that hasn’t happened, and the longer it is delayed, the longer until the actual switch-over,” Fraser said.

Department of communications representatives were unwilling to comment about whether orders have started yet.

The roll-out of STBs is a key part of government’s policy to migrate to DTT — a process that would free up the 800MHz spectrum for faster mobile broadband in SA.

Despite policy dating back to 2008, SA is yet to complete the switch-over, and the country missed the international Telecommunication Union deadline (ITU) of June 2015.

“Any further delay is really unforgivable. Government has indicated that the process should be completed within two years. That seems unlikely. The longer this process takes, the longer it will be before the 800MHz spectrum is available for other uses,” Fraser said.

Fraser also said satellite technology could be considered an alternative.

“The process has gone on for so long that it is debatable whether digital terrestrial television is even the best solution. The increase in available satellite bandwidth means that it would probably cheaper to roll out a DVB-S2 (digital satellite) solution than the DTT solution.

“The free-to-air OVHD platform set-top box and dish are currently selling for less than the estimates of the cost of the locally produced DVB-T2 STBs with antenna,” he said.

More than 20 South African companies are set to benefit from a STB tender estimated to be worth R4,3bn, but Fraser warned that the attempt to use DTT as a boost to grow the local manufacturing industry could backfire.

“The fact is that the local industry will not be competitive with the Chinese, and the programme likely will just be a taxpayer subsidy to an uncompetitive industry. There are 26 different STB manufacturers identified, meaning that each will get a government order for around 200 thousand units.”

Fraser argued that the most effective way for government to recoup capital expenditure is to auction off mobile broadband spectrum.

“The real return on investment on the process is the digital dividend of spectrum in the 800MHz and 700MHz bands. Government may auction off licences in this spectrum, which may help to recover some of the wasted money on the DTT process,” he said.  — Fin24


  1. Actually I never really said that auctioning spectrum was the most effective way to recoup capital expenditure, only that Government may do so.

  2. William Stucke on

    > “The process has gone on for so long that it is debatable whether digital terrestrial television is even the best solution. The increase in available satellite bandwidth means that it would probably cheaper to roll out a DVB-S2 (digital satellite) solution than the DTT solution.

    It’s very clear that DTT is not the best solution. The recognition, quite some time ago, that 100% terrestrial coverage is not economically feasible led to Sentech increasing their satellite coverage from just the DTT transmitters to covering the consumer as well. This coverage is intended to make up for the 16% of the population that was not expected to be covered by a terrestrial signal.

    However, close to 100% of the population is already covered by the DVB-S2 signal. The “STBs” that will be subsidized by the taxpayer may be either a terrestrial or satellite box, with the appropriate antenna, depending on where the citizen lives and what coverage is available.

    The only real change required is to change the ‘default’ decision from: “Use DTT unless it’s not available, in which case use DVB” to “Use DVB unless it’s not available”. This only applies to subsidized boxes.

    For the other 7 million households, you are free to make your own choice. The DVB choice has the benefit that you will not be limited to only receiving certain regional signals, and instead are able to receive all signals broadcast anywhere in the country

  3. I suppose if you want to implement policy then you need to deploy individuals that have the skills and determination to do so (from the top down) – something sorely missing across government.

  4. Government should forget about the 5 million set top boxes and just kick start the digital migration in the private sector. The private sector is ready with SABS standard set top boxes for approximately R100-00 each. Basic DVB-T2 set top boxes are cheap. Just browse Alibaba and see the many high quality DVB-T2 for fat less than Government’s R700-00 per set top box.
    Government should sit back and relax while people are buying SABS approved set top boxes for R100-00 to R200-00 each.
    Why waste R700-00 per set top box? Most of the poor can afford R100 for a SABS standard set top box.
    Government should wait another 2 years with their expensive R700-00 boxes. Gov then should do a census of the real need. Gov might find that they only need to sponsors 1,5 to 2,5 million set top boxes. It is a huge saving for government and the Tax Payer.
    Even better for Gov is to buy cheap OpenView HD set top boxes for all and use all the spectrum for broadband.

  5. What and abandon all 26 of those suppliers who will never, ever recoup the cost of their investment? Shame…