SA to unlock digital dividend as analogue switch-off edges closer

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
Johannesburg, 26 Jun 2023

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) says government’s phased analogue switch-off approach will ensure continued television programming and increased access to mobile broadband services.

This, as the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) last week confirmed the next phases in SA’s years-long-delayed broadcasting digital migration (BDM).

The two-step approach puts forward 31 July as the date for switching 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.

The phased approach marks a significant step in availing spectrum in the sub-1GB (700MHz-800MHz), which is occupied by the analogue TV signals that ICASA auctioned last year.

Authority approval

South Africa’s communications authority ICASA regulates three areas in the ICT sector, namely broadcasting, postal services and telecommunications.

It has welcomed adopting a two-phased approach to finally completing the switch-off of analogue television services.

Furthermore, it supports the first phase, which sets 31 July as the date for migrating any analogue television broadcasting services still operating in frequency bands above 694MHz, to channels below 694MHz on a temporary basis.

“The minister’s [Mondli Gungubele] announcement aligns South Africa’s plans to migrate to digital terrestrial television (DTT) in accordance with international and regional agreements, and with global best practice. Further, it will facilitate the allocation of the ‘digital dividend’ to broadband services,” says ICASA acting chairperson Yolisa Kedama.

The announcement, notes Kedama, also realises the promise made in the SA Connect Policy that “the efficient assignment and subsequent use of high-demand spectrum to meet broadband demand is vital and the cost of not releasing the spectrum timeously is high”.

“There is no doubt that it is essential for South Africa to complete the long-overdue migration to richer content and greater quality of digital television, and for the analogue switch-off to take place as soon as possible.

“The authority welcomes the announcement and is looking forward to the project proceeding without further delays, to the benefit and aspirations of all South Africans,” she comments.

ICASA acting chairperson Yolisa Kedama.
ICASA acting chairperson Yolisa Kedama.

In line withattempts to finalise the BDM programme, minister Gungubele in mid-Junegazettedthe deadline for SA’s much-delayed migration from analogue to DTT broadcasting services.

Gungubele is minister number 13 to oversee implementation of the country's digital migration process, which government regards as a key project to bridge the digital divide.

After missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline, the DCDT has made numerous attempts to conclude the digital migration process, which has been plagued by hurdles along the way, including last year’s Constitutional Court judgement.

According to Gungubele, in December 2022, after significant progress in the implementation of the BDM, his department commenced a process of consultation on the possible analogue switch-off date.

Following the submission of written responses by industry players, the DCDT engaged in the second phase of consultation with broadcasters, namely eTV, the SABC, community broadcasters, signal distributor Sentech and ICASA.

It was after these consultations that his department resolved to adopt a two-step approach towards analogue switch-off.

“This approach is accepted to be a win-win approach that will enable the analogue switch-off progress, release spectrum and allow key stakeholders to recover from post-COVID economic decline and load-shedding impact.”

Gungubele notes the digital migration process is a national priority, given its impact on the development of the ICT sector.

“The analogue switch-off is a critical step that enables release of spectrum and positions South Africa for next-generation technologies. By taking this next step, we are making it possible for the companies that bought spectrum to finally proceed with the investments that can be undertaken.”