It looks like the long-awaited switch-off of South Africa’s analogue television transmitters to free up spectrum and transfer viewers to digital TV is finally going to happen.
Last week the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said that he expected the province-by-province process to start this March and be completed by the end of March 2022.
Like a number of countries in Africa, South Africa missed the original deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union for completion of the switchover process.
Given that this was meant to happen in June 2015, it’s probably no surprise that a year ago the country’s Portfolio Committee on Communications raised concerns over the slow implementation pace of the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy by the Department of Communications. A new delivery model had already been developed in 2018 in an attempt to speed up the process.
TV viewers will obviously benefit from the change as digital broadcasts require less spectrum for broadcasting services. Digital broadcasting will, it is hoped, bring more television channels, more content and more choice for consumers.
However, another aim of digital migration is to release valuable spectrum (the so-called digital dividend) that could be used to provide services that might include broadband wireless.
When and how any new spectrum will be used isn’t clear; the switchover comes too late for the first South African 5G spectrum auctions, which are, supposedly, just over a month away.
Invitations to apply for the International Mobile Telecommunications spectrum and the Wireless Open Access Network have already been published. However, there have already been some legal challenges from operators.