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Monday, July 7, 2014

Signal distributor Sentech warns about 'serious financial risks' for Sentech, entire SA telecom industry should start of DTT go beyond 2014.


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The South African parastatal signal distributor is warning about "serious financial risks" for Sentech and the entire South African telecommunications and TV broadcasting industry should the start of digital terrestrial television (DTT) and introduction of dual illumination be delayed beyond 2014.

Long-delayed and the laughing stock of the African continent and the world, South Africa's TV industry is still to start the actual commercial switch-on from analogue to digital terrestrial television, a process known as digital migration.

South African broadcasters will have to broadcast both their current TV channels' analogue signals, as well as parallel versions of those channels - a process known as dual illumination.

In addition that, e.tv, the SABC and M-Net will all start their own collections of digital TV channels and broadcasting those signals too.

Meanwhile TV viewers will have to buy expensive set-top boxes (STB's) of around R800 and in several cases also new antennas, to keep watching and getting access to public, free-to-air (FTA) television.

This affects at least 8 million South African TV households who are not satellite TV owners nor satellite pay-TV subscribers and who will have to buy a STB to keep watching the free public access television they have always watched.

In addition the department of communication wants an encrypted system, called Conditional Access (CA) built-into these STBs (and which the majority of South African broadcasters are opposing). This is additional proprietary software enabling boxes to be switched off in order to force local STB manufacturing, as well as using the process of digital migration as a job creation vehicle.

In the strategic plan that Sentech CEO Setumo Mohapi presented to parliament on Friday for the next three years starting with the new financial year, he said "the sense for everybody is that there are these real costs of any kind of delays [with DTT]".

Sentech has revised its DTT network coverage targets. The migration target for the digital terrestrial network is 84% for population coverage and 57.95% for geographical coverage. The network rollout will be completed by 31 March 2015.

"We have these analogue networks that we don't want to put money into them as much as possible but we want to keep the services up. So if we can avoid putting money into them we do because we're going to switch them off," said Setumo Mohapi.