SA's digital TV to switch on 26 September

2012-08-21 13:47
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Cape Town – South Africa's launch of digital migration – the start of the real switch from analogue to digital broadcasting and digital terrestrial television (DTT) – is planned for 26 and 27 September 2012 in the Northern Cape with the area of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) chosen where 20 set top boxes (STBs) will be activated in a symbolic, ceremonial "switch-on" ceremony.

The SKA has been chosen to demonstrate that the frequencies used will not be interfering with the SKA project and to show people in South Africa's "deep rural areas", currently without access to public television, that they could have access.

The government and South Africa's broadcasting industry plans to roll out DTT over the next three years, which will require TV viewers to buy a STB and an antenna, with poorest households receiving a partial subsidy.

Channel24 can also reveal that the government now also pegs the price of a STB at R400 – a big drop from the original R700. STBs will be distributed through the South African Post Office.

Broadcast Master Plan

Meanwhile a STB Control System is being developed under the auspices of Sentech which would cost South Africa R10m and enable the government and/or broadcasters to turn STBs on and off. Sentech is also working with the SABC and the broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) on what is called a "Broadcast Master Plan" specifically regarding DTT coverage for the country.

According to South Africa's department of communications, the SABC, and M-Net are all ready to launch on the DTT platform, the department told parliament in a special progress report on the country's readiness for digital terrestrial television.

The SABC is ready to transmit SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 on the DTT network and will also have its new 24-hour news TV channel ready for DTT which the SABC plans to launch at the beginning of September on MultiChoice's DStv platform. The SABC and is also working on a free-to-air (FTA) partnership to promote their collective digital television offering.

The SABC, and Sentech are meanwhile in the process of establishing specific call centres to deal with DTT enquiries from viewers and consumers, although the SABC needs more call centre space for this.

The launch, if it does take place on 26 and 27 September, will be largely ceremonial; a technical launch since no tenders for the manufacture of STBs have yet been awarded by government. No real STBs will exist to be bought by South African consumers and viewers to actually watch digital television transmissions since it takes three months to manufacture a STB.

Sentech has ordered 20 STBs for the 26 September DTT launch - with 10 to be used for direct-to-home (DTH) and 10 for the DTT technical launch demonstration.

SA's massive DTT budget shortfall

Meanwhile South Africa's DTT budget is experiencing a massive shortfall to enable the digital migration. The Department of Communications needs STB subsidies to the tune of R2.635bn, over and above the R940m projected earlier. The overall shortfall, including the SABC's technology upgrade and Sentech's dual illumination requirements is projected at R7bn for South Africa.

There is also a budget shortfall of R800m for the DTT Awareness Campaign of the Department of Communications, meant to inform South African consumers and TV viewers on how to switch-over to DTT.

Both the Department of Communications and Sentech, the parastatal signal distributor, were told by parliament to communicate and collaborate more with each other on digital migration.

Sentech told parliament that it is committed, ready and capable to support a national technical launch of DTT during the third quarter of 2012, within the existing DTT coverage areas for terrestrial services. Sentech further said that the signal distributor was working towards 80% coverage by the end of the financial year with full conversions of sites in Limpopo, the Free State, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, and additional sites in the Eastern Cape, North West and the Western Cape.

SKA chosen to 'prove that DTT works'

Roy Kruger, the technical adviser to the Department of Communications, told Parliament that the department is targeting the SKA in the Northern Cape firstly as a "proof of concept" – to show that DVB-T2 works, and secondly that the frequencies used are not interfering with the SKA Project. Thirdly, it will show that people in rural areas without access to TV could now receive public SA television.

Logistics and political arrangements for the launch dates of 26 and 27 September are apparently already in place. The DTT technical launch would have two components to it – namely satellite or direct-to-home (DTH) around the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) to prove that the SKA signals would not interfere with broadcast signals, and DTT transmission to a township near Kimberley which currently has the only DTT transmitter in the Northern Cape.

The department of communications has already identified 3 500 installers nationally who would assist with DTT installation.
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