SA to invest R1 billion in telecomms for 2010 Cup

The investment will also expand the country’s communications grid to levels commensurate with other first world countries. This follows a presentation made before the South African parliament by the country’s national broadcasting infrastructural company, Sentech last week. Sentech told South African legislators that massive investment is required to upgrade and beef up the country’s 30-year-old television infrastructure, and warned that if the system were to fail during the global soccer showcase ‘ the first world cup ever to be staged in Africa ‘ it would be impossible to get it up and running again. The company told parliamentarians that it intends to start work on the digital television signal in time for the 2010 World Cup, moving the country’s broadcast infrastructure from its largely analogue status to a digital terrestrial system by the time the much hyped soccer competition begins. The rollout programme for Sentech is the next five years, during which it will run digital terrestrial television test transmissions from its main broadcast tower site in Johannesburg to rural areas and other sites. Sentech executive for digital services, Frans Lindeque said in a statement that the R1 billion investment was expected to achieve 92-percent coverage of the country’s population for digital terrestrial television. Lindeque said Sentech hoped to have covered about 78-percent of South Africa’s population with a digital terrestrial television signal by 2008. Digital terrestrial television has as one of its advantages that it allows a number of channels to be broadcast within the same bandwidth as one analogue channel, which only allows for one broadcast. The technology will open up other frequencies for value-added telecomms services such as interactivity, e-commerce and additional television channels. The cost per unit for digital terrestrial television (DTT) will encompass an advanced decoder, which current estimates place as almost R1000, but Lindeque believes the cost may be brought down to as low as R300 through high volume transactions of the decoders. Said Lindeque: “It is possible, however, that these costs could be brought down to as low as R300, depending on volumes sold and the kind of value-added services that are to be implemented on the digital terrestrial television platform.” DTT will provide users with numerous options in terms of services, channels and broadcasters, both regional and national. Furthermore, advertising revenue is also expected to grow significantly as a result, and boost Sentech’s revenues and as whole, those of Sentech holding company, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Digital technology has been noted across the continent to be much better and preferred than analogue technology that is the current backbone of most telecommunications across all 52-African countries. In Zimbabwe, telecomms players have been calling on government to fast-track the upgrade of existing infrastructure and move it to digital to allow e-commerce to develop fully, while broadcasting takes on new dimensions. However, the South African government aims to do away with analogue technology, even though Lindeque cannot explicitly state so himself. “There are many factors which will affect the decision, access and affordability being two of the main ones,” he said. He hinted that the South African government would also undertake surveys to establish which commercial entities where wholly or largely dependent on analogue technology, before making a decision to scrap the use of analogue technology. “The decisions to switch off analogue services will be decided by government for PBS (Public Broadcast Services) services and by commercial entities, where commercial broadcast services are affected,” Lindeque said. In upgrading its network, Sentech will utilise all 220 broadcasting towers and also construct new ones for areas yet to be covered by analogue signal. These upgrades will take two years, and following this, the company will initiate dual illumination-running digital television and analogue signals side by side, in time for the World Cup.

March 2006
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