Brazil defends digital TV stance

Candice Jones
By Candice Jones, ITWeb online telecoms editor
Johannesburg, 21 Jun 2010

Brazilian officials have hit back at media implications that discussions around the digital TV standards to be used in SA are fraught with corruption, saying Brazil has had no part in any underhanded dealings.

Speaking exclusively to ITWeb, Brazilian minister councillor for the country, Felipe Costi Santarosa, says: “We don't like the implications of corruption from Brazil; we just believe that SA should go for the best available technology.”

The assertion follows controversial debates between local broadcasters and the Department of Communications (DOC), on the processes and technologies that should be used for SA's digital TV migration process.

In April, the DOC instigated a review of SA's decision to implement the European DVB standard, introducing a Brazilian adaptation of the Japanese ISDB standard as a possible alternative. The decision to begin the review so late in the migration process has left the broadcasters frustrated and angry, since many are chomping at the bit to get digital TV rolling in SA.

ITWeb recently revealed the department may be pushing hard to get the Brazilian standard adopted in the Southern African Development Community region, and it has claimed local trials on the European standard have been fraught with difficulties.

Brazilian digital specialists have also been pushing to bring the technology into Africa, primarily through SA.

Simply the best

Much speculation and confusion has surrounded the issue, leading to implications of corruption and under the table deals between South African and Brazilian representatives. The lack of clarity about which standard to use has also led to standards-bashing between experts on the technology from Europe and Brazil.

However, Santarosa says this is nonsense. “We invited many people to Brazil to see our technology in action and we are sure it's the best technology available,” he adds.

SA was one of the countries invited to view the technology, and communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda told Cabinet earlier this year that the visit was the reason he decided to review which standard SA was to use.

The DOC has consistently denied any decision has been made regarding which standard SA will use for digital migration, despite speculation that an agreement has already been signed. “We have not taken a decision to change to any standard. Period,” says the department's spokesman, Tiyani Rikhotso.

However, he says government has to look at what would be best for SA. “The minister stated unequivocally when he presented to the Portfolio Committee on Communications last month that we are simply conducting a review of what's the best possible deal for SA now given that technology has evolved since the adoption by Cabinet of the DVB-T standard.”

What did Japan bring?

Santarosa says there will be many advantages to SA if it adopts the Brazilian standard. “The idea is that Brazil and Japan will bring in skills to help SA make the change,” he adds.

Digital migration timeline

Digital Broadcasting Body appointed by the minister.
SA agrees to adopt DVB as a digital TV standard.
Digital Migration Working Group investigates suitable standards for SA, including ISDB and DVB.
SA signs the ITU agreement to use DVB as a standard.
Cabinet ratifies the decision to implement DVB.
Digital Migration Policy published accepting DVB as a standard.
Broadcasters in SA start first digital trials.
Digital Dzonga, the council overseeing the migration process, is formed.
Subsidisation of set-top boxes announced.
Beginnings of a manufacturing industry for set-top boxes created.
DOC visits Brazil.
SADC agreement with Brazil signed - including an energy focus.
DOC announces it will review the decision to use DVB as a standard and a public symposium is held.
SADC meeting to discuss the possible change of standards. Accusations of only Brazilian members allowed into a closed meeting refuted by the Brazilian ambassador Felipe Costi Santarosa, who says only government officials were allowed into the closed session.
SA's now tentative deadline for full analogue switch-off.
Agreed deadline for the SADC countries to have completed migration.
Agreed deadline for all member states of the ITU to have completed migration.

He says Brazil has seen its own advantages in terms of investment into the country, by Japan and other countries. However, he would not be specific on the investments made by the Asian country in Brazil, saying only that it was not the only country to bring deals through the digital migration process.

Speculation holds that there could be a power station on the cards for SA if it goes ahead with the migration in ISDB; however, this has not been confirmed.

Open source

Brazil's software group, Softex, last week held a conference on why SA and Brazil should collaborate in the technology space, with part of the event dedicated to the software development done for the set-top boxes in Brazil.

The country has a strong software development culture, and has developed its own middleware interactive solution for its digital TV decoders called Ginga. The software is based on Java, and Brazil is punting it as an open source solution, free for SA to use.

The open source tip may have sparked the interest of local officials; however, Sun Microsystems still charges for the use of Java Virtual Machine, which the country will need to use to develop its own needs on the decoders.

Despite the concerns, Brazil's interactive standard has made many strides.

It hosts four channels in each area specifically for government use. Some banks have also taken up a channel which allows TV viewers to check the status of various accounts and Brazil may use it later for other banking services.

Brazil is convinced SA can make excellent use of the product it has developed. In a letter to local editors, Brazil's communications minister, Roberto Pinto Martins, says he firmly believes the Brazilian standard is the best available technology.

Mobile push

Santarosa revealed little information about what his country would get out of the deal if SA went along with the ISDB standard.

Brazil's DTT process has been most successful in the mobile TV space. It has developed its own mobile TV handsets, which have sold well in the country. With SA's, and indeed Africa's, very high levels of mobile penetration, Brazil could make a fortune either selling the intellectual property, or the actual devices on the continent.

A new range of mobile handsets recently came onto the Brazilian market at under R1 000. Using the ISDB standard, TV can be watched on the phone without having a contract or prepaid subscription to mobile network providers.

“Brazil wants to play a role in SA and Africa, and help change the way the continent accesses services. Africa has been looking to Europe for too long and all we are proposing is that you look around at what else is out there. Japan is also interested in Africa.”

Japan has hot competition on the continent with fellow Asian country China making excellent headway in the northern regions. It is likely that through SA, Japan could make up some investment space in what is being considered the next growth market of the world.

Silence from above

Meanwhile, there has been no word from the DOC on what will happen now and broadcasters are likely to be feeling impatient with the lack of clarity around the situation.

MNet and etv presented to media earlier this month a successful trial digital TV service on the DVB standard, and have lambasted the delay caused by the standards review. Both broadcasters say that if the department decides tomorrow to continue using the existing standard, the broadcasters will be ready to release a commercial digital TV product in nine months.

However, they agree the expected deadline for SA's analogue switch-off in November next year is now completely impossible, since decoder manufacturing and roll-out will not happen in a year.

There is also a real possibility that SA will not make the international deadline of 2015 if any more delays are pushed into the mix.