/ 1 June 2010

Delay likely in switch to digital broadcasting

The final switchover date from analogue to digital broadcasting could be delayed by at least a few months, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda said on Tuesday.

This was due to a review of the technical standards currently being undertaken, he told the National Assembly’s communications committee.

Since October 2008 Sentech has been operating a dual broadcasting system — both analogue and digital are employed.

The current analogue transmitters are to be switched off in November next year.

Nyanda said Sentech had already invested in infrastructure compliant with the European Digital Video Broadcasting — Terrestrial (DVBT) standard, in line with a World Radio Conference decision for the region, as well as a Cabinet decision.

But, since then the DVBT standard had evolved with technological developments and improvements to become the DVBT-2 standard.

Thus, DVBT had become almost obsolete and a new standard had to be adopted.

At the same time, a so-called Japanese standard, called the Integrated Service Digital Broadcasting — Terrestrial (ISDBT) had been developed.

Brazil had adopted this “open source” standard and adapted it to its own requirements.

There was very little difference between the technical capabilities of the DVBT-2 and ISDBT standards, he said.

At the Southern African Community Development (SADC) ministers’ conference three weeks ago, it was decided to establish a SADC task team of experts to investigate all aspects of the standards, to determine the most suitable for the region within two months.

‘It must offer the best for South Africans’
Its brief included looking at socio-economic benefits and what industry had already invested in relation to the DVBT standard.

“So, that, in short, is where we are. We are conducting a review in order that in the end … it is to the benefit of South Africans, the consumers, the industry, SMMEs are advantaged, and our country benefits,” Nyanda said.

“If we find on the balance of evidence that we are going to have to pay more for the alternative standard … it must have definite advantages in terms of cost, in terms of everything. On balance, it must offer the best for South Africans,” he said.

Any proposed change would also have to go to Cabinet.

If another standard was adopted, it would add a few months to the migration process.

“So there is that likelihood. There are many things that can impact on the date. I think many people have been really sceptical about whether November 2011 is achievable,” he said.

“But before there is anything that is presented to at least the ministry and the minister, which says definitely that we can’t achieve that milestone, then we’ll work on that. When that happens, we’ll have to take this thing to Cabinet, to say that November 2011 … is not achievable.

“But for now, we are working on that basis. As I said, however, the issue of the standards is one of the important issues relating to migration and it may be that it pushes the date further to the right,” Nyanda said.

Pressed by MPs on why a change to the standards was now “suddenly” being considered, he said: “We can’t deny ourselves the opportunity as a country to investigate the best possible option.

“And once we do so, we will consider everything, including investments that have been made on a cost-benefit basis.

“The DVBT standard is different from the DVBT-2 standard, so that even when you adopt the DVBT-2 standards you have to do the things that you have to do with the ISDBT standard.”

Infrastructure would not be jettisoned. All that would be needed was software.

“So, whether you adopt DVBT-2 or ISDBT, it’s just a question of software. You are not going to be required to change … the whole infrastructure that you have invested in,” Nyanda said. — Sapa