Telecoms

Analogue TV switched off in SKA area

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Communications minister Faith Muthambi prepares to switch off analogue signal in the Northern Cape's Square Kilometre Array area. (Photograph by GCIS)
Communications minister Faith Muthambi prepares to switch off analogue signal in the Northern Cape's Square Kilometre Array area. (Photograph by GCIS)

Today marks the start of phase one of government's analogue switch-off (ASO) project, as households in the Northern Cape switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

The Department of Communications (DOC), which is in charge of SA's broadcasting digital migration process, has prioritised households in towns that sit in the core Square Kilometre Array (SKA) area to migrate from analogue to DTT.

These households are in Van Wyksvlei; Brandvlei; Williston; Vosburg and Carnarvon, where analogue causes the greatest interference.

According to Ayanda Holo, director of provincial and local liaison for the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), the ASO project will cover 98% of the SKA area in the Northern Cape, which will see 25 000 households receive digital signals.

He explains: "The analogue switch-off is a demonstration of the first major national milestone in the quest for complete analogue switch off in the country. The ASO process is undertaken in phases across the nine provinces; the Northern Cape being the first in line.

"This shows that the implementation of migration is now on, experienced by the border-lying areas as projected by minister Faith Muthambi in her budget vote statement."

Playing catch-up

The ASO project is the first progressive step in SA's digital migration process. The country missed the 17 June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for all countries to migrate to digital terrestrial television.

After missing last year's deadline, the DOC began the registration process for set-top boxes (STBs) required to transmit digital signals for television viewing.

Missing the ITU's deadline has not been the only hurdle the communications department has had to deal with, as other issues continued to threaten the progress of SA's migration project.

The DOC minister is in a legal battle with Etv over the technical specifications of the STBs. Etv approached the court to have a provision in the digital migration policy set aside that says government-subsidised STBs would not have the capability to encrypt broadcast signals.

The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA, which has been charged with the responsibility of managing the production and installation of STBs, has been ordered to stop the manufacturing of decoders until further notice.

The agency has also faced criticism over the tender process it followed in regards to the production of STBs.

Furthermore, Parliament's portfolio committee on communications, telecommunications and postal services has lambasted Muthambi for the snail's pace management of the digital migration project.

Transmitting signals

Despite this, Muthambi with her department has remained defiant and continued to run educational digital migration campaigns, with today marking the start of the ASO project.

Holo says the DOC ran successful campaigns that covered the entire SKA towns, including those along the borders of the Northern Cape.

The door-to-door campaigns were supported by local municipalities, and as the result of this work by the department and the volunteers from these local areas, 98% of all TV households now have the free STBs, he states.

To enable digital TV in the core towns of the SKA area, Sentech, the state-owned broadcasting signal distributor, fulfilled its mandate by concluding its DTT infrastructure installation process of the 178 transmitter stations nationwide and direct-to-home broadcasting infrastructure to ensure 100% DTT access.

Sentech CEO Mlamli Booi says: "It is an honour for Sentech to be a part of this milestone event and we remain committed to ensuring connected citizens through a digital network.

"The migration from analogue to digital television presents more opportunities for broadcasters in terms of content proliferation and affords South African audiences a wider range of higher quality television channels."

According to Holo, those few houses with no decoders will lose their current viewing. "The South African Post Office will be ready to register and install within 72 hours."

The ASO process is undertaken in phases across the nine provinces, he adds.

"After the Northern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and finally Gauteng will be digitally migrated," says Holo.

Government plans to subsidise five million TV-owning households across the country with free STBs.

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