Row looming over digital TV standards - TechCentral

Row looming over digital TV standards

A battle may be looming between industry and government over the broadcasting standard SA will use for digital terrestrial television. It’s a row that could set back SA’s plans to move to digital TV by years.

SA has committed itself to using the European digital video broadcasting terrestrial (DVB-T) standard, but the department of communications may be seeking to throw a spanner in the works. The department wants broadcasters to consider Japan’s integrated services digital broadcasting terrestrial (ISDB-T) standard as an option.

SA broadcasters are already running extensive trials using the DVB-T standard and there are concerns that shifting to another standard will cost them millions of rand and put the country at odds with its neighbouring states, all of which have committed to DVB-T.

Industry players are already expressing concern — both publicly and privately — that adoption of another system could set back the move from analogue to digital terrestrial television by up to three years and put the country on a more expensive technology path.

“We are so close to launching this standard [DVB-T] and so I fail to understand why now, at the eleventh hour, we’d consider something else,” says Altech UEC business development director Anton Lan. UEC is the country’s largest manufacturer of digital set-top boxes.

“So much time has been put into this by everyone — government, Sentech, the broadcasters — one has to ask: why now?” Lan says.

The department of communications has called a symposium, to be held in Johannesburg this Thursday and Friday, at which it wants to consult the broadcasting industry to “gain a comprehensive understanding and insight into what each standard offers” and “determine the flexibility of the standards to incorporate innovations”.

Communications department chief director Gift Buthelezi, who is believed to be the key figure behind this week’s symposium, could not immediately be reached for comment. However, the stage appears set for fireworks.

According to industry sources, the Brazilian government, which has adopted ISDB-T — one of only a handful of countries outside Japan to do so — is putting pressure on SA to switch away from its commitment to DVB-T.

According to an industry body, the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (Sadiba), ISDB-T has “limited and fragmented implementation in Japan and Brazil, with recent adoption by Argentina, Peru and Chile, among others”.

Sadiba warns that ISDB-T does not offer technological benefits over DVB-T. “It is not the most advanced technology available today, and nor is it more [spectrally]efficient, affordable, interactive or more flexible than DVB-T.”

The association says implementing ISDB-T will result in “increased radio interference, poor spectrum efficiency and perpetual spectrum wastage” and will not conform to a binding agreement signed by International Telecommunication Union member states in 2006. SA is a signatory.

“It’s really looking like there will be a showdown over this,” says Sadiba representative Gerhard Petrick. “No-one has asked for a change in the standard other than the department of communications, which has been lobbied hard by Japanese and Brazilian lobbyists.”

Petrick says the ISDB-T standard does not fit into the frequency band plans that SA has coordinated with Europe and with other countries in Africa.

“Efforts to reconsider the standard are not based on any scientific or factual assessment of the performance of these standards,” Petrick says.

“The call to participate in a standards debate is clearly biased against the adopted DVB-T standard and it signals the department of communications has bought into the sales talk of the Japanese and Brazilian lobbyists.”

He says these lobbyists are pushing for SA to adopt the technology because they are struggling to get the economies of scale needed to get prices down in their own markets.

“DVB-T technology will always be cheaper because its market is so much larger,” Petrick says.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral


  1. I smell something fowl going on.

    Someone has an interest in switching, someone in government will get something out of this!

    Lets hope common sense prevails.

  2. I agree with Nictron. I think the Ministers department (the Minister actually) should be subject to audit if there is a decision to adopt ISDB-T and especially if he ends up holidaying all expenses paid in Rio.

    Brazil is no poster boy when it comes to corruption.

    This 11th hour intervention stinks…

  3. Of course, several of the TV manufacturers have been selling TV’s in South Africa with DVB-T tuners built in.

    How is that going to affect the consumer?

  4. Petrick also have vetted interest in DVB-T standards.. He is also trying to protect his business. DOC is doing a good job. Petrick is angry because he wont be part of the new commitee, he is in the camp of the disbanded Dzonga.. So he can influence the workings of Dzona..

  5. The major technical challenge is that Africa like Europe is in ITU Region2 in terms of frequency planning and coordination. Therefore Africa must coordinate very closely with Europe .This exercise was finalised in 2006, leading to the Regional Radio Conference of 2006 and an international treaty was concluded involving all Africa and Europe. It means that all technical parameters have been finalised and agreed by all the countries involved and any change at this stage will required fresh replanning and negotiation with all the countries involved to avoid harmful interference. One country can only go alone at the risk of serious interference to or from other countries. The option is to renegotiate the treaty and this is not feasible since the other countries are already implementing their migration strategies based on the 2006Treaty.

  6. Anonymous Coward on

    Somebody will be paid a nice and handsome sum of money in order to scrap the DVB-T standard in favour of the other.

    What is needed now, is transparency at all levels, and not rush-rush deals.

    Should be interesting.

    Fortunately this will not affect us as we don’t watch television.

  7. So why do we have to follow Brazil, just because the football coach is from there???

    It’s a joke, the government has now shown they don’t know what they are doing after all the investment into DVB-T that has taken place.

  8. “Guy Berger says:
    27 April 2010 at 11:17 amThere’s another cat amongst the pigeons – the idea that the STBs should move direct to DVB-T2.”

    DVB-T2 is significantly better than anything else in terrestrial YV broadcasting. Not only is the capacity over 60-80% higher ( in the UK some 66% higher), but the signals are more robust at the same time.
    Even if enough spectrum is available the cost of transmission of – say 3 muxes – will be reduce by a third as only 2 DVB-T2 muxes needs to be transmitted to enable the same capacity.

    ISDB-T do not even come close.

    With much new DVB-T2 equipment available on the UK market the higher prices for DVB-T2 receivers will only last a short while.

    This seems to be politics at its worst.

    Lars 🙂

  9. Cristiano Jacobs on

    I still hope the south african government stays with DVB-T!!! Adopting Brazil´s standard means creating jobs in Brazil, importing from Brazil, paying more because ISDB doesn´t have enough scale, etc….

    Let´s stick with DVB-T2!!! This one is the best!!!

  10. ISDB-Xpert on

    My comments here are from someone who plays for ISDB. But I am trying to explain the real picture. Analise carefully and think once that it may be true, despite the lobby thing. Just open your mind and evaluate yourself both sides.

    First of all, DVB-T2 is not ready for S.A. It is too expensive. Who understands well, knows that it is not being offered seriously for third world countries and it has not been deployed in S.A. What has been tested in S.A. is the old version of DVB.

    2nd, creating jobs in Brazil is unlikely with ISDB-T (probably in China), but creating jobs in Europe (and in China) is very likely with DVB. In fact, Brazilian standard has won all battles against DVB in the third world, wherever it has competed. Main arguments are not only the technical ones, but the opportunities it opens to the local value chain, and that includes South African Universities and software industries. Have a look at what is happening in Argentina.

    3rd: European DVB lobbyists have what interests? What are the chances of S.A other than just buying something if you adopt DVB? Give yourself a chance to check what Brazilian “lobbyists” are arguing.

    4th: S.A is a country with similarities to whom? Spain? France? Or, Peru, Equador, Brazil, etc… All of these, countries with strong similarities with S.A, also have a great share of the population with access to the free-to-the-air TV, instead of cable TV.

    5th: Economies of scale argument is bowshit planted by DVB lobbyists. DVB TV sets or SetTopBoxes do not sell more than ISDB sets. DVB has not reached all the population it claims to have. DBV+MPEG4 (the S.A proposal) has no economies of scale by now. DBV-T2 has no economies of scale at all.

    6th: Spectrum efficiency issues are not true. 264QAM trades-off robustness…. too technical.. Better not comment on that but believe me… compression is the key point. ISDB-Tb first introduced MPEG-4 and it is the standard which created the economy of scale for that.

    7th: DVB lobbyists are rushing African countries to adopt their standards. DECOM is acting correctly on giving themselves time to rethink what is best to S.A. This is a long term decision (for instance, Color TV was introduced 40y ago).

    8th: There is no such ITU pressure. Again, that’s DVB lobby.

    9th: No comparison tests were made back in 2006, when DVB “decision” took place. Isn’t it better to do it now?

    10th: What kind of help DVB gave to S.A in these 4 years? Why D-TV didn’t start yet? Is DVB giving attention now, just because they realized the threat of loosing not only S.A, but also all the neighboring countries to ISDB-T? Just for the record, Peru and Argentina started transmitting D-TV only 6 months after adoption, with the help of Brazil and Japan. Colombia and Uruguay, who adopted DVB are also struggling in their roadmap.


  11. @”ISDB-Xpert says:….” You sometimes, when reading a posting like this, just fell an urge to write nothing but ‘BULLS**T” – but a little explanation may be needed.

    “First of all, DVB-T2 is not ready for S.A. It is too expensive.” –
    Granted that some at DVB have not wanted to promote an unfinished standard and some have put forward economic arguments that was ‘not up to any acceptable standard’ – more like the talk of an uneducated salesman. But …

    Who says it will be expensive in 6-12-18 months time. The same argument has been used against very many changes in this and many other technological areas. But the DVB-T2 decoders are not inherently costly – given the expected chip volumes and Moores Law. The cost of a TV without a DTT tuner and one with a DVB-T2 chip is almost the same – or it will be in a few months time.

    The benefit, however, of investing in and operating only 2/3 the number of transmitters can be very large for the broadcasters. The world best SFN features of DVB-T2 can provide huge savings in covering large areas with a limited number of large TX masts.
    DVB-T2 has come out with flying colours in all tests. In fact is was so robust, that the BBC and Ofcom chose the 40.2 Mbit/sec mode and not the 36 Mbit/sec mode originally planned.

    “2nd, creating jobs” When broadcasters and international salespeople morph into ‘job creation experts’ – beware, The DVB-T2 standard is the closest thing to the Shannon limit and an unlikely place to expect universities to get into as new research areas.
    All standards are now ‘just a chip’ on the receiver side. The chosen standard will not allow any more or less job to be created in S.A.

    “3rd interest” I don’t know – But for myself I can say that I am writing here for no other reason that I truly believe that the people of S.A. will get a much better end more economical system with DVB-T2.

    “4th similarities” This is 100% without any relevance. In terms of RF transmission S.A. is not even similar to itself from East to West , from South to North.
    Stop such stupid arguments, you make a fool of yourself.

    5th: Economies of scale …. has not….” You do not seems to understand – or do not want to understand – that 500+ million in the EU is a very significant market, Not just because there are 500 million highly paid persons, but also because most have several TV sets and many are of the more expensive models.
    The DVB-T/T2 MPEG-4 is the current de-facto HW standard for TV sets in most EU countries. In some countries MPEG-4 is not broadcast, but MPEG-2 only receivers are very rare these days.

    “6th: Spectrum efficiency issues are not true” – Oh YES they are. DVB-T2 has a very much better spectrum efficiency than anything else – and ISDB is not even a distant second. MPEG-4 has NO relation to the transmissions technology. It just happens currently to be the best compression standard for mainstream video.

    “7th:….This is a long term decision” – Exactly – and this makes short term arguments even more irrelevant.

    “10th:” S.A is not a developing country and the DVB is an not ‘for profit’ ORG, It has members and they create standards and share information.
    Your arguments around deploying DVB/ISDB in South America will indicate that you know little about the different geography and economy of the countries of South America.

    Lars 🙂

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