Digital TV standard for SADC declared

The Committee of Ministers responsible for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) at SADC (Southern African Development Community) recently issued a statement saying that SADC would adopt DVB-T2 using MPEG4 compression as the digital terrestrial television (DTT) standard for the region.

The South African Department of Communications (DoC) surprised local stakeholders when then-director general Mamodupi Mohlala announced some months ago that South Africa hadn’t selected a standard for DTT.

Many industry players, including e.tv and M-Net, rubbished the DoC’s statement, pointing to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Plan (BDMP) gazetted by the department itself, as well as regulations published by ICASA earlier this year.

Ex-minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda then later indicated that South Africa’s chosen standard was DVB-T, but that recent technological developments gave reason to re-evaluate South Africa’s position. Nyanda said that the department would await SADC’s recommendation before making a final decision on the matter.

There has been a back and forth of claims and counter claims by the proponents of DVB-T and ISDB-T/ISDB-Tb (the Brazillian version of ISDB-T), the standards seen as the most likely candidates for digital broadcasting in South Africa.

ISDB-T technical demonstration

A Japanese delegation demonstrated an ISDB-T transmission in South Africa earlier this month.

While the demonstration proved that ISDB-T could be configured to operate on the 8 MHz channel widths employed in South Africa, SADIBA indicated that such a tweak isn’t a big deal.

“This is however, neither revolutionary nor innovative, but merely confirmation that old 1st generation standards can be modified to operate in 8 MHz as it should have been able to do since 1997,” SADIBA said in a document sent out to its members on 17 November.

“Only 8 % of the stated objectives can be considered as having been achieved,” SADIBA reported. “The majority of the stated objectives (69%) were not achieved.” The balance of the objectives had unclear results.

SADIBA also took issue with the fact that key industry stakeholders such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), members of the academia and third-party engineering experts were not able to participate in the demonstration.

“No independent measurements nor peer review assessment of the ISDB-T 8 MHz trial were done,” SADIBA pointed out, concluding that “Any claims made on any success or proof of performance achieved is solely made by proponents of the ISDB-T system and has not be verified, studied or assessed in any substantial manner by any independent entity or stakeholder. ”

While a war of words has been raging locally, a special task group of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have evaluated various digital broadcasting standards to recommend one standard best suited for the whole region.

The recommendation of the task group seems like an important factor as both the ex-Minister of Communications, Siphiwe Nyanda, and the recently appointed Radhakrishna “Roy” Padayachie have deferred making a decision on the matter until after the task group reported back.

SADC adopts DVB-T2

Joel Kaapanda, Minister of Communications & Information Technology of the Republic of Namibia and Chairperson of SADC Committee of Ministers responsible for ICT, delivered a statement on the committee’s decision on which DTT standard members of SADC should adopt.

According to Kaapanda, the committee was presented with three standards to choose from: The Brazillian and Japanese versions of ISDB-T, DVB-T, and DVB-T2. The second generation DVB-T standard won out.

“SADC Member States should adopt DVB-T2 with MPEG4 compression as the recommended digital terrestrial standard for the Region,” said Kaapanda.

He added that those countries that have already begun implementing DVB-T should continue doing so but need to ultimately migrate to DVB-T2.

Kaapanda reaffirmed that SADC member states must switch to digital broadcasting by 31 December 2013.

Not cast in stone

The use of DVB-T2 is only a recommendation, however. It would seem that member states aren’t required to use the European broadcasting standard.

“Any SADC Member State that decided to adopt any other standard than DVB-T2 with MPEG4 compression should do so in compliance with GE-06  [Geneva ITU GE06] Agreement.”

South African industry players have indicated in the past that the GE-06 agreement is based on the DVB-T standard.

It is expected that the South African Department of Communications will adopt SADC’s position on the matter, however.

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Digital TV standard for SADC declared