Sentech on the hunt for set-top box developers

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State signal distributor Sentech is looking to enter into a five-year standing supply contract agreement with a set-top box manufacturer – or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) – to co-develop and supply set-top boxes (STBs) for the unsubsidised market.

The company is specifying feature-rich services for digital terrestrial television (DTT), direct-to-home (DTH) and IP networks, or combinations thereof. The contract will come with an option to extend for a further three years.

The tender advertisement follows last month's revelation by the communications ministry’s acting director-general Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani that the 600 000 STBs that had been installed in qualifying households as part of government's switch to digital migration is “a drop in the ocean considering the number of households that still have to migrate nationwide”.

SA's migration from analogue to DTT has encountered numerous delays and difficulties, resulting in the country missing the International Telecommunication Union's 2015 deadline to complete the full switch.

Charged with implementing government’s multibillion-rand Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) programme, the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) is now facing dissolution. This follows endless controversy in its management, procurement and rollout of STBs, and leading to its partnering with Sentech to assist with the rollout of phase one of the BDM project.

The switch to DTT, which warranted a mention in president Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address earlier this year, is expected to produce significant cost savings for the cash-strapped South African Broadcasting Corporation, as well as free up radio frequency spectrum for mobile broadband and broadcasting services.

Government has committed to subsidise digital migration resources for households that depend on social grants and those with an income of less than R3 200. These resources include STBs, which are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV.

Said Ramaphosa: “The completion of digital migration is vital to our ability to effectively harness the enormous opportunities that are presented by technological change that is going on around the world. It is anticipated that this process, which will be done province by province, will be completed by the end of March 2022.”

Last month, the Department Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) said it was making progress with the analogue switch-off in the Free State, while simultaneously working on the switch-off in the Northern Cape.

Sentech at the wheel

While USAASA's relationships with both manufacturers and installers were fraught with acrimony, Sentech appears to be quietly proceeding with getting work under way.

In March, the company advertised for STB installers and installation companies to join its panel for rollout in Limpopo for a period of three years. The outcome of that invitation has not been announced.

Meanwhile, it last month advertised for similar panels of installers for the Northern Cape and North West. Submissions for these tenders will close early next week.

The submission deadline for the manufacturing of STBs, on the other hand, closes on 29 June. In its tender documentation, Sentech stressed that the primary requirement is for the “co-development” followed by supply and delivery of STBs with feature-rich IP services for the unsubsidised markets.

The units will be required to perform the following functionalities:

  • Provide satellite signal reception, decodability and interactive services on Sentech's satellite network.
  • Provide terrestrial signal reception, decodability and interactive services on Sentech's DTT network.
  • Operate with free-to-air, free-to-view and pay-TV services on the DTH network.
  • Operate with free-to-air, free-to-view and pay-TV services on the DTT network.
  • Operate with free-to-air free-to-view and premium services on in-home steaming network.

“The STBs will be white-labelled to allow Sentech to brand it accordingly per requirement (of Sentech's strategy, clients and partners). Any unique IP produced as a result of this co-development will be co-owned by both parties,” it stipulates.

The successful bidder will also be required to acquire approval certificates from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa as well as the South African Bureau of Standards for each product supplied.

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