South Africans taking part in the trial of new mobile television technology will be among only a few in the world watching the 2006 World Cup on their cellphones.
The trial of digital video broadcasting-handheld ([DVB-H) technology being conducted in Pretoria, Soweto, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town is part of a move to bring South Africa in line with the latest digital trends – in time to host our own World Cup in 2010.
Bad news for Eastern Cape soccer fans is that the province will not be part of the trials.
The trial will allow those with a DVB-H-enabled Sagem phone (the only enabled phone currently on the South African market) to watch the 2006 soccer world cup action, live and free of charge.
The technology, which has yet to be commercially launched worldwide, is being tested in South Africa by MultiChoice, which is collaborating with many of the industry?s biggest players.
The three cellular networks are involved, and Vodacom was last week granted an Icasa licence to test the technology.
The cellular giant will be party to MultiChoice’s trials, which began last November.
Also on board are the SABC and Sentech, which will be responsible for providing the signal distribution network, said spokesman Pranill Ramchander.
"We are co-operating and making sure that as a country we are complementing each other. And this co-operation with our HDTV ([high definition television) solution on the one hand and MultiChoice’s DVB-H on the other, is one such co-operation," SABC group CEO Dali Mpofu said of the collaboration.
Astrid Ascar, general manager of M-Mobile, the company set up by MultiChoice to develop DVB-H, said:
"MultiChoice prides itself on being on the pulse of technological development. DVB-H is currently poised to be the leader of the pack when it comes to mobile broadcast technology, hence our decision to commence with a DVB-H trial."
She said that as there was little marketing and understanding of the differences between 3G and DVB-H at this stage, there was no way to tell whether there was a broad public interest in the technology.
"It may be more accurate at this early stage to comment on the response to the concept of mobile TV – access to information and entertainment anywhere, anytime – on the go, so to speak. Indications worldwide are that responses will differ depending on the lifestyle and socio-economic demographics of a particular market, but consumers are on the whole responding favourably," Ascar said.
DVB-H technology allows for a digital terrestrial broadcast of live television to a mobile phone user.
The new technology is different from 3G in that as a one-to-one transmission, the technology is subject to bandwidth and quality limitations said Christa Botha of Magna Carta PR, for Vodacom.
"If too many users try to watch video content simultaneously on their mobile phones, the network could become overloaded and picture quality adversely affected," Botha said.
DVB-H, is however an actual broadcast to the mobile phone, and doesn?t suffer these limitations.
In time, it is hoped that the two technologies will work side by side, allowing mobile phone operators to receive actual broadcasts via DVB-H and download shows and content on demand via 3G.
While no-one can say exactly when the product will be fully launched in South Africa, it is clear that it is aimed at being fully fledged by the time 2010 rolls around.
Vodacom CEO Alan Knott- Craig said: "It is my expectation that by 2010 every South African will have access to telecommunications; will have access to high-speed broadband data and will have access to television on their phones."
Also in the pipeline for South Africa are high definition television, which broadcasts digitally at a higher definition, and broadband internet – all with a view to improving South Africa’s broadcasting network to cater for an audience of around 40 million soccer lovers come 2010.