Sentech fancies streaming services market

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Cape Town, 13 Nov 2019
Sentech CEO Mlamli Booi.
Sentech CEO Mlamli Booi.

Video streaming services is “definitely” an area Sentech “wants to expand and extend its services into”.

This is according to CEO Mlamli Booi, speaking to ITWeb on the side-lines of the AfricaCom 2019 conference in Cape Town this week.

Booi made the comment while discussing the broadcasting signal distributor’s latest broadband offering, Sentech Connect, which aims to digitise healthcare, education and government services in underserviced and rural areas, as well as bridge the digital divide.

He explained: “Broadband for us really is a growth area as a business because convergence of technologies requires any ICT infrastructure company to look at all platforms for delivering content. For us, the video content and the audio content does not have to be distributed wirelessly because there is streaming services, which is an area we are definitely wanting to expand and extend our services into.

“This is so our customers can have a package of platform services to run content distribution wirelessly, via satellite and via streaming, which is why we are interested in providing broadband.

“If we stay out of that then our business is really going to dive deeper into trouble.”

Last month, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) announced its intention to venture into the over-the-top (OTT) space, competing with the likes of Netflix and MultiChoice in the Internet streaming services market.

SABC CEO Madoda Mxakwe revealed the troubled public broadcaster has developed an integrated OTT strategy, with the goal that it develops or acquires its own OTT streaming platform as a medium-term ambition.

As to if the SABC announcement influenced Sentech’s decision to move into streaming services, Booi explained it is not driven by that. “We have been on this journey for two years of building an OTT platform for our customers like the public broadcaster – so they can actually use our OTT platform for streaming.

“Any other broadcaster can use our OTT platform for streaming. It’s not driven by the choice made by the SABC but it will be great for us if they can choose us. We are hoping they will choose us as their OTT platform operator.”

Broadband aspirations

According to Booi, Sentech’s broadband offering is well aligned with government’s ambitious broadband project, SA Connect.

SA Connect aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country's population by 2020, and 100% with the next phase of implementation.

In terms of phase one, the project looks to connect all schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Centres and post offices, in eight rural district municipalities, to broadband services.

However, the full implementation of the project has been found wanting.

Booi indicated Sentech used to do broadband services many years ago, hence coming back to this space. “Sentech has been involved in broadband for a while but our broadband involvement has been mainly on providing sub-connectivity to the remote areas only. In the last two years, we began to get involved in rolling out fixed-wireless broadband, particularly supporting SA Connect.

“We are not going back to the same model where we provide services to the end-user or to homes. For now, our model is more like a business-to-business model – where we are looking to provide connectivity to broadband, provide e-learning services to education, e-health services to the health department.”

The CEO explained Sentech Connect is an extension to the provisioning of public services. “As Sentech, we decided we are not going to be waiting only for the areas allocated by the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies to roll out broadband.

“We have approached provincial governments, and KZN in particular is very keen to engage in a tripartite alliance, whereby Sentech will do the wireless last mile using Broadband Infraco and provide top layer services using SITA services.”

Sentech’s aim is to close the access gaps in underserved areas, schools, clinics and hospitals, Booi concluded.