Put a stop to digital TV nonsense - TechCentral

Put a stop to digital TV nonsense

[By Candice Jones]

It’s been almost six months since Southern Africa’s broadcasting industry was thrown into turmoil over the department of communications decision to review the standard SA should use for digital television migration.

And with the clock ticking, broadcasters and manufacturers are losing patience with the silence from the department.

The longer uncertainty drags on, the more it appears the department has no idea what to do about it while broadcasters sit on their hands waiting for some semblance of clarity on what to do next.

Already one of SA’s largest manufacturers of television decoders, Altech UEC, has threatened legal action against government.

Since 2006, local broadcasters, decoder manufacturers and signal distributors have been working to migrate SA from analogue to digital terrestrial television.

Broadcasters invested millions of rand in technologies and trials, manufacturers started spinning out decoders for the millions of homes that will need them to receive digital signals, and signal distributors have erected many of the towers needed to transmit the signals.

All of this was done on a European standard called DVB-T, which SA and neighbouring countries agreed to use for digital TV. The process has cost hundreds of millions of rand — some estimates peg the cost at R700m.

In a stunning turn of events that left many broadcasters speechless, the department of communications decided to entertain a Brazilian delegation flogging their own version of a Japanese television standard called ISDB-T.

The department’s consideration of the Brazilian standard has not just affected SA broadcasters: all Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries have had to review their decision to use the European standard.

Amoordalingum Pather, a senior consultant involved in the migration from analogue to digital in Mauritius, has written to Sadc calling for sense to prevail. Mauritius is more than 80% of the way through its migration process, and had plans to be finished by 2012, if not earlier.

Amid all of this, the proponents of the two main standards under consideration have been throwing mud at each other. Hostilities are escalating.

There are very real economic and financial implications for SA if it ditches the European standard for the Brazilian one.

Topping the list is the development and manufacture of decoders. Decoders using the Brazilian standard are significantly more expensive. It’s a wonder the department of communications hasn’t considered the prices of the decoders because government will need to foot the bill for all the poor households that will not be able to afford the device.

The frustration in industry is palpable, and it may not be long before communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda finds out what kind of legal clout the local broadcasting industry is able to muster.

Nyanda’s predecessor, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, learnt how hard it can be to fight a large and determined company in the courts.

Altech has a good track record on realising legal threats against government. In 2008, the company won a high-court victory against the late minister, which partially liberalised the telecommunications industry.

It’s not a company that makes idle threats.

Altech UEC has invested millions in the manufacturing of digital decoders. It has developed intellectual property that it has freely handed to new manufacturers to help boost the market.

There is an easy solution to this entire mess, one that will allow the department to avoid an ugly legal confrontation: make a decision, make it soon, and make it in favour of DVB-T.


  1. I don’t think any of the (ir)relevant Cabinet members actually watch TV, never mind comprehend the technology that delivers the service. One can only guess at the promises made behind the scenes to allow this disaster to come to the surface. Now, how to unmake those promises…


    Brazil and the DOC had the courage of leaving South Africans without digital tv during the World Cup. The DOC stalled the process to favor the Brazilians! DVB-T was ready to go, and we South Africans will not forget the mess created by both DOC and Brazil! For that reason and many others, I say “NO” to isdb-t!

  3. Baumer Shnider on

    If South Africa adopts isdb-t, it will be the ONLY 8 MHRZ ISDB-T IN THE WORLD! I keep praying for our government not to make this EXPENSIVE mistake while there´s still time!

  4. As usually money in the back pockets will make the decision. 😉 Watch as South Africa ends as the only country switching from PAL to ISDB-T while all the others switched to DVB-T.

  5. As time passes, M-net and E-tv, 2 proudly South African companies are now testing the latest technology in digital tv called DVB-T2! DVB-T2 trial is taking place in Soweto. DVB-T2 is more robust standard in the World. It has got l40% arger chanel capacity than isdb-t. DVB-T2 is considered the only SECOND GENERATION STANDARD IN THE WORLD!

    Now we will be able to seriously compare why DVB-T2 is the most superior standard.

    Conclusion: If we waited for so long, it´s time to choose the best one!

    DVB-T2 is the best!


  6. Anderson Linsky on


    A select group of Soweto residents will be the first in the country to experience cutting edge digital television.Broadcasters, e.tv and M-Net, today announced plans to bring the latest digital television technology to agroup of residents in the Soweto area.
    The broadcasters have been running digital television trials since 2008, using the Cabinet approved DVBstandard. They will expand the existing trials to include the latest version of this standard, known as DVB-T2.
    “T2” is generally accepted to be the most efficient standard available today for the delivery of digitalterrestrial television. Its primary advantage is that it is 50% more efficient in the way it uses radio frequency,which is a scarce and limited resource. This means that a single T2 multiplex can carry up to 18 channels. Given the extra capacity available, T2 also gives the scope for high definition services to be provided onDTT. India and Kenya are among the countries to have recently indicated that they will be adopting T2 intheir migration to digital.
    Marcel Golding, Group CEO of e.tv explains, “The development of T2 shows that DVB is the right choice forSouth Africa. T2 is a more efficient version of DVB-T and is available should we choose to use it. The T2standard recently received the Innovation Award for Content Delivery Technology at IBC, the world’s premierentertainment and media content exhibition.”
    Broadcasters started lab tests with T2 in September.
    M-Net CEO, Patricia Scholtemeyer, reports that the T2 signal is now on-air in Johannesburg and trial participants are being recruited in Soweto. “We are aiming for these trials to be as inclusive as possible“, shesays, “once the selected trial participants have had some time to fully experience this second generation technology, we will be inviting the industry bodies, academia and the media to share in the trial experiences and results.”

  7. The DVB-T2 (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial 2) modulation standard offers exciting opportunities for South Africa with its increased capacity and ruggedness in the transmission environment, to fixed and portable receivers.
    So said Richard Waghorn, CTO – SABC Technology, in his keynote address at the Screen Africa Talent & Technology Conference, which took place at the Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate, Johannesburg on 23 July 2009. Waghorn was formerly the BBC’s Controller of Distribution, responsible for setting strategies for delivering the digital switchover in the UK.
    With digital terrestrial television (DTT) trials currently underway in South Africa on the DVB-T standard, Waghorn stressed that DVB-T2 was not designed to replace DVB-T. “It is a second generation standard which introduces new modulation techniques and was designed to use existing DVB-T antennas and transmitters and to provide at least 30% more capacity. Furthermore, it has improved SFN (Single Frequency Network) performance and robustness. It operates on the same frequency channel as DVB-T.
    “In the UK, DVB-T2 is delivering free to air (FTA) high definition (HD) TV services on a terrestrial network. Already, 45% of households in the UK have HD displays. There wasn’t any capacity on the UK’s DVB-T multiplexes for HD channels, hence the upgrade to DVB-T2. It can have up to five FTA HD channels in a single multiplex. UK broadcasters, our regulator Ofcom, signal distributors and manufacturers are presently running a DVB-T2 trial. Testing is being done on two transmitters in London, using prototype broadcast and receiver equipment. We expect a 50% increase in capacity on the DVB-T2 multiplex but it might be better as we’re running at 40 Mb/s. Three HD channels per multiplex are planned for this year. The coding standard for DVB-T2 is MPEG-4.”
    According to Waghorn, the roll out of DVB-T2 in the UK is happening simultaneously with the digital switch on from 80 main transmitter stations. He pointed out that in South Africa, DVB-T2 could complement DVB-T. “Because South Africa runs at 22 Mb/s, DVB-T will only accommodate a single HD service on each of the country’s three planned DTT multiplexes. By using DVB-T2 you could get 50% more capacity on each multiplex. In time DVB-T2 and MPEG-4 will become more stable and cheaper. Right now, DVB-T2 decoders are already cheaper than Brazil´s modified ISDB-T. 90% of the World in DVB so South Africa is well positioned to take advantage of these standards, particularly when the analogue signal is switched off and frequency is freed up.”

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