South Africa’s telecoms regulator, ICASA, has awarded its second licence for DVB-H mobile TV broadcasting to MultiChoice. Multichoice and e.tv, the first licensee, will share a DVB-H multiplex and have 12 months to launch services. At the same time, South Africa is reconsidering whether it should adopt Japan and Brazil’s ISDB-T instead of pursuing the deployment of DVB-T. Meanwhile, the Brazilians are conducting tests to prove that the ISDB-T standard can be deployed in the 8MHz bands currently used throughout the African continent.
The lack of definition regarding the DTT standard at the same time that DVB-H licences are being awarded raises questions about the potential profitability of future mobile TV players: will a DVB-H network be built in the next 12 months only to compete with potential free-to-air 1-seg broadcasts?
As it stands, 41 African countries could still opt for ISDB-T, influenced by South Africa’s decision, corresponding to approximately 1.4 billion people. This would significantly add to the current ISDB-T market, which is currently limited to Latin America and Japan and covers 580 million people (click on diagram below).
The conflicting signs given by the government of South Africa are symptomatic of widespread confusion in the continent: the debate over transmission standards has been plagued by misinformation, and governments are mixing the attributes of each standard with the benefits of particular network configurations, compression and interactive middleware choices.
Farncombe believes that countries choosing a transmission standard should focus on maximising the economic benefit of DSO transition, and carefully analyse the following issues:
- Price of set-top-boxes: Although prices tend to decrease with time, there are still significant differences between technologies. This might have a strong impact on the duration of simulcasting, and force governments to implement wider subsidy schemes, and must be carefully analysed against the risk of creating a legacy base of set-top-boxes.
- Incentives from standards’ proponents: Benefits offered by countries interested in expanding the reach of their technologies may prove persuasive.
- Overall long-term objectives: If one of the overarching objectives for DTT migration is to enable interactivity, then interactive functionality must be mandated; otherwise it will be ignored by the vast majority of manufacturers.