The final regulations governing South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television were gazetted on 14 December 2012 and will ultimately make spectrum available for broadband applications.
Broadband will be the ultimate winner but the question now is how long does industry have to wait before the allocations will be made and how will frequency spectrum be allocated? That in itself could be a very long process.
The first step is for the Minister of Communications to announce the commencement date of the dual illumination period as well as the date for the final switch off of the current analogue system.
The Gazette confirms that the second generation digital broadcast transmission system (DVB-T2) and the fourth generation Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) compression standards and future versions of those standards have been standardised for implementation in South Africa.
For some time the DVBN-T2 standard was questioned by government, delaying the final migration regulations several times.
One of the delays was due to the controversial decision by former communications department director-general Mamodupi Mohlala to entertain a hybrid Japanese-Brazilian digital broadcasting standard instead of the European standard that had already been agreed upon.
At the time the SABC was tasked to demonstrate the Japanese system. It was when the SADC group came out in favour of the DVBN-T2 standard that government accepted the recommendation made by South African industry experts that DVBN-T2 was the obvious choice for the country!
Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) councillor William Currie told a media conference held in Johannesburg last month that two dividends of spectrum will be made available for telecoms applications, covering the frequency bands between 694 MHz and 862 MHz.
He said that this spectrum is ideally suited for the next-generation of mobile broadband and has properties that make it cheaper to roll out services outside the urban centres. Currie said allocating two digital dividends below 1 GHz will help to address the delivery of universal broadband access while still ensuring there is greater consumer choice in terrestrial television broadcasting.
He said that as many as seven multiplexes would be available to broadcasters after migration to digital has been completed. “This will allow for as many as 140 standard-definition terrestrial channels.” He said that ICASA will not dictate which picture quality broadcasters should use. This means that the number of channels could be less, as some broadcasters may opt for a combination of standard and high definition channels.
Two multiplexes will be made available immediately for digital broadcasts, with the SABC getting 85% of the first multiplex. The remaining 15% will be reserved for community service broadcasters. E.tv will get 55% of a second multiplex – enough for eleven standard-definition channels – with M-Net getting the remaining 45%.
At the same time as the publication of the final migration regulations, ICASA issued draft regulations designed to promote diversity and competition in digital terrestrial television broadcasting. The draft regulations propose using mobile DTT multiplex 2 as the third DTT multiplex for promoting diversity and competition on the DTT platform. Multiplex 3 will be shared between new subscriptions TV, free-to-air commercial TV and community TV services.
The regulations make provision for a joint spectrum advisory group to promote efficient coordination of frequency spectrum and interference resolution during the dual illumination period and for six months after the end of dual illumination.
The group will consist of two representatives from each terrestrial television broadcasting service licensee and electronic communication network service licensee, two officials of ICASA and a chairperson designated by ICASA.
Should the communications industry be excited? Yes and no! Yes because there are now regulations in place but no because the process can take a long time before the digital dividend spectrum will become available, most probably only after the International Telecommunications Union digital migration cut-off date of 2015.