Mobile TV inches forward

Johannesburg, 02 Jun 2009

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) hopes to issue an invitation to apply (ITA) for licences for frequencies to provide mobile digital video broadcasting services by the middle of July - after an earlier attempt to do so was blocked.

The on-again, off-again process was derailed in February, when independent broadcaster e-tv objected to the awarding of frequency spectrum for mobile television broadcasting.

The broadcaster said the Digital Video Broadcast - Handheld (DVB-H) frequency could not go through before the finalisation of digital terrestrial television (DTTV) frequencies. The exact reasons for e-tv's objections have not been made public.

The authority explains the allocation of mobile TV frequencies had been mandated by government. Former communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri stated in her past budget speeches that she was keen to see DVB-H ready in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. This would be to ensure a large percentage of the population would be able to view the games.

ICASA had initially set the deadline for applications for radio frequency spectrum licences to provide mobile broadcasting services in February, after issuing the ITA in December.

The authority's spokesman, Sekgoela Sekgoela, says a comprehensive frequency plan is expected to be finalised this month, before stakeholders are invited to apply for mobile TV frequency licences.

“We are aiming to issue the ITA by the end of this month; yet, you never know what could happen before then so, at the latest, we expect the ITA should go out by the middle of July.”

Cancelled invitation

ICASA says it will release the spectrum allocation for DTTV by the middle of this month. The authority says it is awaiting further public comment on the regulations, but it is confident they will be gazetted soon.

Earlier this year, ICASA councillor Robert Nkuna said, in media reports, that e-tv's objection made the authority realise it had to allocate DTTV frequencies first and then the mobile TV frequencies. This statement was made as ICASA issued a notice informing stakeholders it was cancelling the ITA.

E-tv spokesman Vasili Vass says the broadcaster would not comment on its initial objection to the ITA. “The matter is under consideration by ICASA and we feel it would be premature for us to comment until a frequency plan is published,” Vass adds.

Sekgoela says the DTTV and mobile TV frequency allocations will fall under a frequency plan, which is expected to be released later on in the year. In the meantime, a number of stakeholders have already been testing mobile TV services.

Testing the waters

In 2006, MultiChoice began a mobile TV trial service under a test licence from ICASA. The broadcaster streamed the service via Sentech's national broadcasting network to Sagem TV cellphones.

Vodacom group spokesperson Dot Field says the mobile operator introduced its mobile TV service in 2005, and it is available to its contract, top-up or prepaid customers. Vodacom's mobile TV service can be accessed via the Vodafone live! Web site on any 3G cellphone.

Both MTN and Cell C say they are awaiting the regulatory process to be completed before making any statements with regards to mobile TV.

World Cup frenzy

Meanwhile, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) says it is gearing up to provide mobile TV solutions to SA. The company has already rolled out services in Nigeria, Namibia, Ghana and Kenya, and anticipates that SA will be ready for mobile TV before the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“After the ITA has been issued and the tender for the multiplexes has been awarded, we expect the formal licence granting to take place during the upcoming summer. NSN is prepared to support our customers developing mobile TV broadcasting based on the licence granted,” says Stefan Schneiders, NSN head of business development for mobile TV.

Schneiders adds that, after the DVB-H licences have been granted, NSN does not expect any major barriers in rolling out mobile TV in SA. At the same time, relevant content, such as the World Cup, is expected to spur the adoption of mobile TV.

“A mobile TV service was started in Italy during the 2006 World Cup and 18 months later it had more than 800 000 subscribers, which is 10% of the mobile subscribers in that country. We believe a similar scenario will occur in SA.”

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ICASA issues mobile TV invitation
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