Digital migration – South Africa is losing face as Africa’s technology leader

June 18th, 2015, Published in Articles: EngineerIT



Houlin Zhao

The deadline for the switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT), was set for 00:01 UTC on 17 June 2015. It heralded the development of  “all-digital” terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television for 119 countries belonging to ITU Region-1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) and the Islamic Republic of Iran. But South Africa is not amongst them.  Other countries in the region along with South Africa that, according to the ITU, have not yet started the migration process are Armenia, Bangladesh, Belize, Central African Republic, Comoros (Union of the), Egypt, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, and Turkey

The 17 June 2015 deadline for switching off analogue television broadcasting in the UHF band was set by ITU Member States at the Regional Radiocommunication Conference in 2006, known as the GE06 Regional Agreement. Several countries that are party to the GE06 Agreement, as well as many who are not, have already made the transition.

South Africans could have celebrated digital migration if it was not for political interference and wrangling between some of the broadcasters. The worst part is that all 178 Sentech sites have been fully equipped with digital transmitters and associated equipment and are ready to switch on. This would have provided a 100% coverage of the country. The only exception is the Astronomy Advantage areas of the Northern Cape where satellite television will be deployed to avoid interference at the main Square Kilometre Array site.

For the past seven or more years there has been controversy over the set-top boxes (STB). Should the STBs be open or encoded? Each of the Ministers of Communication who held the post to lead communication in South Africa added their own complexity and confusion. The latest being who should control digital migration, the Minister of Communication or the Minister of Telecommunication and Postal Services?  The splitting of the previous department of communication into two has not helped. Initially minister Dr. Cwele claimed it to be his job, but ultimately the minster of communication Faith Muthambi claimed it for her department. With ETV having taken the latest decision not to encode to court, one wonders when South Africans will  be able to enjoy the new technology and the many channels that could have been added.

The new digital GE06 Plan provides not only new possibilities for structured development of digital terrestrial broadcasting but also sufficient flexibilities for adaptation to the changing telecommunication environment.

TU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said that 17 June marks a historic landmark in the transition from analogue to digital television broadcasting; and that the process, which began in June 2006, has re-envisioned the way the world watches and interacts with TV and opened the way for new innovations and developments in the broadcast industry.

Digital TV broadcasting offers many advantages over analogue systems for end-users, operators and regulators. Apart from increasing the number of programmes, digital systems can provide new innovative services, such as interactive TV, electronic programme guides and mobile TV as well as transmit image and sound in high-definition (HDTV) and ultra-high definition (UHDTV). Digital TV requires less energy to ensure the same coverage as for analogue while decreasing overall costs of transmission. The more efficient use of radio spectrum brought on by digital TV also allows for the so-called digital dividend resulting from the freeing up of much-needed spectrum for use by other services, such as mobile broadband in the future.

Watch an ITU video here

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