South Africa’s “Go Digital” Television Revolution

The Department of Communications has announced new standards for digital television set-top boxes which will provide millions of South African households with Internet access for the first time.

The new STB decoder standard, known as SANS862:2012 announced in conjunction with the SA Bureau of Standards, provides for a “return path” functionality which will enable broadband access for households. There are not details as yet on the quality of the broadband service in terms of bandwidth, latency and contention, but expect more about this as HDTV becomes a reality for South African households.

The new revised STB decoder standard includes a USB port and will deliver similar functionality to that of cable and wifi.

Medialternatives raised the issue of Internet via Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) back in 2008. You can read the posting here.

The new standards are bound to impact on South Africa’s domestic electronics industry, as major players jockey for position in the award of tenders.

The Democratic Alliance has  criticised the new digital strategy of government subsidised decoders for being “Dead on Arrival”, since according to the party, the “decoder can be more cheaply manufactured overseas.”

DA MP Marian Shinn said in March that the demand for the set-top boxes had a limited lifespan and that local manufacturers would therefore not create long-term employment.

The opposition party has obviously not done its homework, since the new standard is a real boost for local electronics manufacturing, providing a baseline for subsidised consumers who are bound to demand further value-added technologies.

The South African Communications Forum (SACF) applauded the move, congratulating Minister Dina Pule, and this blog can only concur — at last common sense has prevailed with a triple reward — digital television is going to benefit local industry, Internet service providers will see a boost from value-added services in particular web-hosting, as the  consumer benefits from an increase in Internet access  options .

Digital television could bring internet services to the poor

Kreatels IP-STB 1520
Kreatel's IP-STB 1520

WILL South Africa’s entry into digital television – the migration from analog waves to a digital signal – bring internet services to the poor? There is no reason why not since the technology to provide IP bandwidth over television has existed for years. It only takes guts and determination from the national broadcaster and in particular ICASA the national regulator. IP services have been offered via satellite for years, but high entry costs have prevented the average consumer from making use of such services. Now with the move towards a digital television platform, more affordable onramp to the information superhighway could be in the offing.

In 2004 Kreotel launched an IP/digital terrestrial set-top box that with a built-in DVB-T tuner that combines access to digital terrestrial television, IPTV and enhanced services. Since current DSL provided by parastatel Telkom is expensive and low bandwidth offered by cellular operaters does not provide much of an alternative, such a system could revolutionise the way internet is provided to the  masses. As far as I can gather, the only problem with IP via digital television is that most of the traffic is one-way, since it is difficult to provide the same level of interactivity found on a land-based DSL platform, but for those high downloads, digital television could be ideal. DSTV users on South Africa’s pay-television channel already have a measure of interactive services, and such services could be increased tenfold if the engineers get their calculations right.

So, let’s free up some much needed bandwidth by demanding internet services with our television licence. You heard this from the DRL Blog first, go forth and prosper.

LINK: Kreotel launches combined IP/digital terrestrial set-top box