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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  16 Mar 2015

INFOTECH: Digital Migration is Not Just About TV, It Will Be a Boost for Mobile Broadband.

 





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South Africa’s path towards digital migration has been far from inspiring. It was under the Mbeki administration that the government first announced that it would switch off analogue television broadcasts by 17 June 2015.

That was part of a global agreement driven by the International Telecommunications Union to free up spectrum. However, the stop-start process that has followed that first announcement, and the churn in the office of the Minister of Communications, has meant that it is highly unlikely that the deadline will be met.

However, digital migration remains important for the country and the sooner it can be seen through, the better. The process is now moving again, and recent cabinet announcements have created hope that even if it is not finalised this year, at least some big steps towards full digital migration will happen during 2015.

This is good news for the country, and not just because we can expect better television signal. Digital broadcasting allows for more channels on the same amount of spectrum, as well as for a far more flexible and interactive viewing experience.

“The spectrum that can currently broadcast one channel will be able to broadcast ten in the future,” explains MD of WorldWideWorx, Arthur Goldstuck. “So you can open up the airwaves to far more broadcasters and more channels.”

This also means that there will potentially be a surge in demand for new content, and the creation of that content could become a significant industry. This is not just traditional video content, but other forms as well.

For instance, many news channels currently show multiple kinds of content on the screen at the same time. While the presenter is in the main screen, there could be tickers or sidebars showing other information. Digital broadcasting allows for viewers to choose to focus on these different elements.

“Digital migration allows for new forms of content to be created,” Goldstuck says. “In a sense viewers will be able to use their televisions as browsers, getting more relevant information based on what they are already viewing.”

This has the potential to transform the local broadcasting industry, but digital migration is about more than just television. Significantly, moving away from analogue broadcast signals will free up large amounts of spectrum for mobile broadband.

“Analogue broadcasting uses bandwidth very inefficiently,” says Goldstuck. “So digital migration will open up a massive amount of spectrum.

“The scarcest resource in the world of telecommunications is radio spectrum because there is only so much signal you can send on a particular frequency at a given time,” he explains. “So the more radio spectrum is available, the more effective your signal becomes.”

What this means for local telecommunications operators is that it will boost the potential for true fourth generation, or 4G technologies, particularly Long Term Evolution, or LTE.

“LTE offers faster speeds and allows for more reliable service delivery,” explains Lehlohonolo Mokenela, ICT industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan. “And that brings all sorts of interesting applications for both consumers and enterprises.”

Having this spectrum available should also lead to lower data costs, since bandwidth won’t be such a scarce resource.

“Once it becomes less scarce, hopefully it will cost less to deliver,” says Goldstuck. “And with that, usage will go up dramatically as well.”

Golstuck believes that this could have a huge positive impact on the economy.

“It’s hard to say exactly how people will take advantage, but when people start using the internet more intensively, it opens their minds to new possibilities,” he says. “You will probably see far more innovation emerging where a higher proportion of the population has access to low cost, high speed broadband.”

However, these benefits are unlikely to materialise overnight once the analogue signal is switched off. It it will take time for the impact to be realised.

“The benefit will be over the longer term,” Mokenela says. “It really depends on the uptake of services and the number of LTE-ready devices in the market. And of course the cost of data is still something that needs to be addressed before you talk about the additional applications that can be provided on top of the access itself.”


 
 
 
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