SA on track to end dual-illumination, says minister

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 13 Mar 2024
Mondli Gungubele, minister of communications and digital technologies.
Mondli Gungubele, minister of communications and digital technologies.

South Africa’s analogue broadcasting signals will be switched-off entirely in the early weeks of December, bringing an end to dual-illumination, say government department heads.

Minister Mondli Gungubele, his Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) and its entities appeared before Parliament’s portfolio committee yesterday, to brief it on various issues, including broadcasting digital migration (BDM) progress.

South Africa has been migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting television for many years, after missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline.

Gungubele’s DCDT, which is overseeing the project, has made numerous attempts to conclude the digital migration process, which has been plagued by hurdles.

Last year, the department initiated a two-step approach after consultation with industry. The phased approach put forward 31 July 2023 as the date to switch-off all analogue broadcasting services above 694MHz, with 31 December 2024 as the end of the dual-illumination period and switch-off of the remaining analogue services below 694MHz.

Dual-illumination, or simulcast, is the interim period in which both analogue and digital signals are allowed to be transmitted at the same time before the analogue signal is switched off. At the end of the dual-illumination period, all analogue television broadcasts will cease.

Acknowledging the years-long delays, Gungubele told MPs that the two-phase approach helped the BDM programme move at a “faster pace”.

The first phase helped facilitate analogue switch-off of the broadcast signals above 694MHz and 800MHz, and therefore release the spectrum for telcos, he noted.

Since then, 123 analogue transmitters have been switched-off, he revealed, with only 20% of analogue broadcast TV signals remaining in this second phase.

“This gives us an idea that we are on course towards ensuring the December target is actually done, doing away with dual-illumination and all its implied costs,” he said.

“We’ve got huge reason to celebrate now that the telcos have occupied a lower frequency…it makes business sense for them to go to the far-flung areas and raise the opportunities of ordinary people.

“Over and above that, it’s a major reform in the sense that it constitutes part of the president’s reform items, which is key for investors. Telcos have also paid all their dues in as far as spectrum is concerned, which amounted to about R14 billion.

“They are also working with ICASA [Independent Communications Authority of South Africa] and agreements have been reached with regard to social obligations attached to receiving the spectrum.”

Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, director-general of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. (Photograph by DCDT)
Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, director-general of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. (Photograph by DCDT)

Migrating from analogue to digital TV was the key pillar to availing the sub-1GB (700MHz-800MHz) radio frequency spectrum bands occupied by the analogue TV signals.

These are the spectrum bands licensed during telecoms regulator ICASA’s “historic” spectrum auction in March 2022.

DCDT director-general Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani explained that the digital dividend has been cleared – the spectrum above 694MHz – and the frequency restacking is also being completed.

“The high-demand spectrum is now fully operational and utilised by the mobile operators,” she told the committee, adding that the mobile operators started delivering on their social obligations as of 1 March.

Jordan-Dyani reported that with the spectrum cleared for the mobile operators – step one of the analogue switch-off – the department is now working on step two towards the December deadline. “The remaining analogue services…are scheduled to be switched-off by 31 December.

“For the final switch-off of transmitters, we anticipate this will happen early in December. There are 191 transmitters to be switched-off across all provinces.

“As government, we are confident we are moving towards the December 2024 analogue switch-off timeframe.”