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Telecoms: a slice of digital migration pie

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tyson's picture

There are very interesting developments as South Africa waits for the roll-out of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). You might want to read a previous blog for background on the whole process.

A recent report by ITWeb indicated MTN's intent to gain access to a fraction of radio frequency for the purposes of broadband service provision.

It was a fantastic example of just how digital migration means so much more than crisper soTeleund, pictures and additional TV channels.

It is so much more than an enhanced experience for many of us couch-loafers. More than your favourite soapie, sports team or programme in the splendour of high definition.

MTN playing their hand and requesting a slice of the spectrum pie is a window into just how much the telecoms sector as a whole is set to benefit hugely from the process.

Fight for frequency 
While the much-vaunted benefits around potential new TV channels, bandwidth-light digital signal transmissions have their merits, frequency is also one of the major driving forces behind the push to shift free-to-air broadcast signals off their current space.

The coveted range lies at around 2.5GHz and operators would be keen to make use of this responsive frequency band for the provision of their own services. But, as it stands, that range is either occupied by channels running analogue or has yet to be fully available before the switch-on process.

New Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim has yet to make it clear when that will take place, but one of the most recent indications (under former Minister Dina Pule) was that the process would have taken place in the latter half of this year.

One of the most interesting developments to watch, then, will not necessarily be the swiftness of emerging digital TV channels. It will not be the clearer image and sound which has so often been mooted as the primary benefit.

The interesting part will be seeing just where operators are accomodated when the spectrum allocation process begins to take shape.

What about radio?
What about radio, you may ask.

Guy Berger, in his 2009 paper titled Beyond Broadcasting: The future of state-owned broadcasters in South Africa speaks od the extent to which digital migration would 

Digital migration is so much more than what it is made out to be. 

The new form of signal transmission opens up the scope, Berger says, for audio-only transmissions along some of the TV channels. A means to potentially revolutionise access to radio.

Just like internet radio, it no longer limits listening to geographical areas. So existing radio stations are presented with a bit of a challenge when it comes to strategising for a changed environment.

So it's not exactly going to be a full-on buffet for the telecoms operators. They're going to be competing in a space which could potentially be 'democratised by digital migration.

But time will tell.

For now, MTN is probably the first of more telecoms operators who will come forward and lay claim to some of the possibilities which will be presented by the process of migration.

Bon apetit.