Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams gives update on digital migration

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has said the government is still planning to complete the country’s digital migration process by the end of 2021.

The Department of Communications will also meet with ICASA soon to plan out the migration process.

Speaking at an MICT SETA graduation ceremony on Tuesday, the minister responded to a report that acting Director-General of the department Nomvuyiso Batyi had stated South Africa will only complete digital migration by 2022.

The minister said the department still aimed to finalise digital migration according to the current timelines.

“We are committed to sticking to the timelines that we had announced,” Ndabeni-Abrahams noted.

The department confirmed to MyBroadband that it will stick to the deadline of 2021 for the switch-over from analogue to digital TV broadcasting.

This date was agreed upon by Cabinet and originally communicated during a presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications in February 2020.

Ndabeni-Abrahams added the department will be engaging the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) on the migration in due course.

“We will be meeting with the Authority which will take us through in terms of the processes that will unfold…to ensure that creation of an enabling environment for the infrastructure that we are talking about is realised,” the minister said.

Better and cheaper data

South Africa’s move to digital broadcasting has repeatedly missed deadlines over the course of nearly two decades since it was initially proposed.

Switching from analogue to digital broadcasts will deliver clearer signal reception, additional bandwidth, and superior picture quality.

Migrating from analogue broadcasting will also free up high-priority spectrum in the 700MHz and 800MHz bands, which will greatly enhance mobile operators’ ability to lower data prices and improve speeds in South Africa.

Both Vodacom and MTN have previously stated that the release of additional spectrum will allow them to reduce their pricing of data and cover more South Africans with high-speed Internet.

Spectrum auction

ICASA has indicated that the auction for high demand spectrum will take place by no later than 31 March 2021, an announcement which was welcomed by mobile operators.

“MTN believes that the licencing of high demand spectrum remains crucial in facilitating the deployment of digital infrastructure to South Africans to provide all our people with access to the economy and to bridge the digital divide,” MTN Executive for Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said.

The Authority also provided emergency temporary access to additional spectrum to alleviate pressure on mobile networks due to increased traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Sullivan said MTN was hopeful that ICASA will extend the deployment of this temporary spectrum until the auction, to allow operators to “continue providing seamless connectivity to our people”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams called upon entities who will be licensed with access to the high demand spectrum to ensure they build infrastructure which will provide quality broadband to remote areas.

“Gone are the days where we are going to be discriminating from (sic) our people because of their geographical areas,” the minister said.

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Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams gives update on digital migration