Africa: A first taste of Multichoice’s DVB-H service

Multichoice is currently trialing their Digital Video Broadcasting – Handheld (DVB-H) service in Soweto, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. This service is delivered over Multichoice’s own 800 MHz trial network, and the company has partnered with Vodacom, MTN and Cell C to ensure smooth service delivery and that SIM cards are compatible.

DVB-H differs from 3G mobile technology in that 3G is a point-to-point technology and as a result is subject to bandwidth and quality limitations. DVB-H on the other hand is a true broadcast technology, and a point-to-multipoint technology therefore it does not suffer the same limitations as 3G with multimedia.

Most of the content which is delivered on the new DVB-H platform is syndicated with a strict requirement that encryption is part and parcel of the service. This in turn requires conditional access which is why Vodacom, MTN and Cell C are important players in Multichoice’s mobile TV plans.

The DSTV provider further envisages that consumers will purchase this new service – and be billed for it - through their cellular company rather than Multichoice since it makes sense that it will be bundled with other mobile services like voice or data.

Multichoice’s Linda Vermaas, CEO of DSTV Mobile, says that the company is confident that the service will enjoy great uptake after launch. The DVB-H product will be a commercial business in its own right, looking for high volumes at low rates. While current pricing models and content are still under development, Vermaas said that it will definitely be a sub-R 100 service.

For Multichoice to officially launch this service the company will need spectrum from ICASA, something that is currently the main obstacle. Applications for spectrum are not open yet, but the company is confident that they will be successful when the date arrives considering the progress they have already made.

Another possible hurdle comes with the Minister’s recently released policy directives where ICASA is directed to consider allocating spectrum to a single network with possibility of national coverage for the provision of Mobile Broadcasting Services. This is something which Vermaas feels is not the best solution, but as this is currently only a consideration she is optimistic that things may change.

While a lot must happen before the service will be launched commercially, it is already up and running and we had a chance to test it for ourselves. The following channels are part of the current DSTV Mobile trial: SuperSport 1, SuperSport 2, SuperSport 3, SuperSport Update, SABC 1, Big Brother Africa, E! Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Channel O and CNN.

The service is very easy to use, but this may depend on the mobile handset. For this trial Multichoice selected the Samsung P910, which has a direct TV button that makes accessing the service seamless. The process is as easy as pressing the TV button and selecting a channel.

Once connected, the streaming of content is very smooth – as can be expected from a broadcasting service – and the visuals and sound quality are excellent. You can clearly read the small scrolling text appearing on news sites like CNN (which is surprising considering the size of the screen) and the sound quality is superb. The resolution is currently 320 x 240 pixels, high enough to satisfy most mobile TV users.

A lot of the content is currently not optimized for small mobile screens, and this can be somewhat disappointing when watching sport. Most of the time the shots are however of such a nature that it is easy to follow the game.

The lack of ‘made for mobile’ content does however not distract much from the enjoyment of being able to watch the game or the latest news wherever you are, and one can expect many rugby and cricket fanatics to watch a full game of rugby on their mobiles while at the office.

A question which may be on many people’s minds sitting in peak traffic every day – can you use it while moving at moderate speeds. Our testing shows that the service may have short intermittent breaks while driving at higher speeds, but it is definitely still very usable.

All in all it is definitely a worthwhile service, and depending on the price, it will most likely attract many takers when it is launched commercially. South Africa has become a ‘cellular nation’, and this value-added service is of a high quality which should ensure its success.

(, 26th September 2007)

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