Minister reverses mobile TV policy

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 11 Aug 2008

Companies keen to bring television to mobile phones are waiting for communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri and her director-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole to clarify an apparent policy U-turn.

The Department of Communications (DOC) previously directed that government would license just one company - likely Sentech - to provide SA a mobile TV network. Market watchers feared this would create a new monopoly. Now the department says there will be more than one vendor.

Vodacom, MTN and MultiChoice have previously expressed interest in mobile TV.

MultiChoice GM for corporate affairs Jackie Rakitla says the company that operates DSTV is "excited and encouraged by this development".

"MultiChoice believes various players in the industry should be encouraged to explore these technological opportunities. We are hopeful that the licensing process for mobile TV will be expedited," he says.

MTN and Vodacom could not comment on the development by the time of publication.

Media reports say MultiChoice has been running mobile TV trials for the past two years, in partnership with Sentech and cellphone operator MTN. The SA-based company already has commercial mobile TV services running in Namibia, Nigeria and Kenya using the Digital Video Broadcast - Handheld format.

Analysts pleased

BMI-TechKnowledge MD Denis Smit says the new approach is "actually very sensible and is excellent news for the industry. MultiChoice is ready to go now."

Frost & Sullivan ICT industry analyst Lindsey Mc Donald says the announcement means the "government is consciously avoiding the creation of another monopoly in the telecommunications market".

"The decision to allow more than one player means the market can flourish under the effects of high competition. The mobile market is already a great example of this and the minister's decision will just enforce this. Frost & Sullivan expects existing media players to show an increased interest in mobile TV as a result of this announcement."

IDC analyst Richard Hurst says an additional point to consider is that an open and competitive market should boost the local content industry.

"The increased competition is expected to make the service more affordable and give consumers a choice in terms of the service," Hurst adds. "From a network operator perspective, it gives them the opportunity to vary and differentiate their service offering and thus drive revenue growth: be it via subscribers or advertising."

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says a "U-turn was inevitable" and notes one "can expect more in the coming three years".

"The further implication of the U-turn is that the DOC is not applying itself rigorously enough to the issues at stake, or is not being pragmatic enough in the guidance it takes from its advisers.

"This may indicate a hidden agenda, or a political strategy that is not dictated by the needs of the country, but rather by vested interests," Goldstuck says.

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