South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital broadcasting has been fraught with delays and debates, the most recent of which centres around the use of encryption on free-to-air (FTA) channels.
Digital dividend the prize for analogue to digital migration
The digital dividend is a region of frequency spectrum occupied by analogue TV broadcasts that will be freed when the migration to digital is complete and the analogue signals switched off.
In South Africa this region is between 700MHz and 900MHz – prime spectrum real estate for providing wide coverage in less urban areas, and popular for the deployment of the high speed successor to 3G HSPA+ networks, Long Term Evolution (LTE).
A costly migration is a slow migration
Because of the important role that the digital dividend can play in rolling out wireless broadband networks, Willenberg said that the release of these frequencies in the shortest possible time must be prioritised.
“This means that swift migration to digital broadcasting is critical for the introduction of new services and operators,” Willenberg said.
We seem to have lost sight of the reality that the speed at which the digital migration progresses will ultimately be dictated by the consumer, Willenberg argued. “They have to go out and buy the equipment,” she said.
“Until they have done that you can’t switch off analogue, and until you switch off analogue you can’t release the dividend,” Willenberg explained.
However, if the equipment is expensive the uptake will be slow.
Based on the proposed specification, government has been working on a price of R700 for a set top box – a price which Willenberg said could be significantly reduced if the necessary measures were taken.
Willenberg said the decisions about which functionality to include in South Africa’s STB specification should be weighed against the cost.
“We should be aiming for a market which offers a range of solutions – integrated digital TVs, high-end STBs and STBs with more basic functionality. We are not saying that the Rolls Royce of STBs should not be available to those consumers who want to pay for it, but that there is no need for Rolls Royce functionality in the most basic entry-level STB,” Willenberg said.
STBs are meant to be an interim step, Willenberg said, explaining that they should be replaced by digital tuners built into TV sets similar to the way analogue tuners are built into TVs currently.
When one considers this, an entry-level STB that will cost R700 isn’t practical when the critical functionality is available at a fraction of the cost, Willenberg said.