'...monologue to digital'
You don’t have to fret if the concept of ‘digital migration’ is foreign and confusing to you. Minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda is also not entirely sure of the details of the process, or even the correct terminology.
Here is a brief crash course on digital migration for the benefit of the minister and those of us who haven’t brushed up on our technology news for some years:
Previously television broadcasting took place in analogue format which requires a large amount of bandwidth for transmission. Digital technology uses significantly less bandwidth and improves the quality of sound and visuals. Consumers will need to buy a set-top box to convert digital signal back to analogue so that this new, more efficient broadcast format is accessible on old televisions.
The use of digital signal will free up a considerable amount of space for extra channels (and therefore more competition – awesome) as well as improved features such as electronic programming guides. Thus, along with other countries in the world, we are currently poised to embark on a journey of ‘digital migration’.
Since November 2008 South Africa has been broadcasting to both analogue and digital platforms. This is set to continue until 2011, marking a three year period known as ‘dual illumination’. South Africa’s analogue signal will be switched off completely sometime between 2011 and 2012, reaching the global deadline of 2015 in good time.
The process is a pricey one. Broadcasting in both analogue and digital during the dual illumination period is set to cost government over a billion rand. Funding is also required for the public education campaigns needed to inform consumers about the process.
Furthermore government is setting up a substantial set-top box subsidy programme so that South Africa’s poorest television-viewing households will only have to pay around R210 for the device, as opposed to the full cost of around R700.
However, there is a discrepancy between the amount committed by government and the amount actually required. Lloyd Gedye writing for the Mail & Guardian estimates government’s shortfall for the entire digital migration process at over R2-billion.
In Johannesburg last week the minister launched the Digital Dzonga (Dzonga meaning ‘South’) Advisory Council, the body which is to oversee this complicated endeavour within South Africa’s broadcasting sector. Nyanda admitted that he would need to lobby the treasury for extra funding.
Although he also referred to the transfer from “monologue to digital” so we shouldn’t always assume that he means what he says.
Ready, Set (-top box), go
Despite the potential funding setback the manufacturing and distribution of the requred set-top boxes seems to be on-track. On 22 July 2009 telecommunications group Allied Technologies (Altech) announced that through it subsidiary, Altech UEC, it has formed a partnership with Ellies Holdings, manufacturer and distributor of television reception-related products.
Together the two will manufacture, distribute and install the set-top boxes, and also provide after-sale services. Sales are expected to start in April 2010.
In addition Altech UEC and Ellies plan to create training centres to aid unemployed and disadvantaged individuals, through the ‘Altech UEC Ellies Installer and Repair Academy’. These schools will be set up at various Ellies branches around South Africa and will provide unemployed people with the skills necessary for installation of aerial and satellite systems, first-level STB fault diagnostics and reparation, as well as business and life skills.
This is a very encouraging plan and perhaps a move towards broadening South Africa’s somewhat elite ICT sector. But let’s not get excited just yet – digital migration is set to be a complex and arduous process. The work is cut out for government and industry players, but whether the financial, education and other setbacks can be overcome remains to be seen.
Catherine Sackville-Scott blogs at Next Generation TV Show