While the Department of Communications has said that South Africa’s analogue television broadcasts need to be switched off by December 2013, 8ta managing executive Amith Maharaj said that the digital migration will likely only be completed in 2016. This is based on information Maharaj said he recently received around the cost of DVB-T2 set top boxes (STBs).
The international switch-off date for analogue broadcasts prescribed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is 17 June 2015.
Aynon Doyle, regulatory affairs manager at MIH Group for MultiChoice, said that though he agrees the migration will only be completed after the 2013 deadline, he feels Maharaj’s estimate is perhaps overly pessimistic.
There are also too many factors beyond the control of broadcasters to accurately predict when analogue broadcasts may finally be switched off, Doyle added.
The new SANS specification for DVB-T2 STBs that the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) must still put out was one such factor, Doyle pointed out.
Doyle said that the problem isn’t that the DVB-T2 network won’t be ready in time, but that set top boxes could cost upwards of R800.
This means that it could take the government a long time to adequately subsidise and supply poorer citizens with a box. When analogue transmission is switched off, those without a set top box, TV with built-in DVB-T2 tuner, or satellite TV subscription, will no longer be able to watch TV.
A delay in the analogue broadcasting switch-off will also have a knock-on effect on mobile broadband, Maharaj explained.
When the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting is complete, a section of the frequency spectrum, known as the “digital dividend,” will become available for other uses.
Terrestrial TV broadcasts occupy low frequency spectrum that is desirable for mobile network operators, partly due to the wider coverage it offers.
Maharaj illustrated this by explaining that with their current spectrum they may need 10,000 base stations to cover the whole country whereas they would need 4,000-odd towers to achieve the same result with digital dividend spectrum.