Live transmission of quality TV and video requires at least 5Mbps, whereas South Africa currently only has 0.5Mbps actual speed — one-tenth of the speed required, says Patrice Lasserre, chief operating officer of Goal Technology Solutions (GTS).

Nonetheless, technology is advancing at such a rate that, notwithstanding the broadband deficit, service providers are preparing pay-TV and video-on-demand services that use broadband, but employ a range of carrier technologies.

GTS has applied to Icasa for a pay-TV licence, which charges users only for the programmes they watch.

The service proposes to bypass the infrastructure constraints of the local market by using electricity cables as the broadband carriers.

Lasserre says: “About 86% of SA homes have electricity, so by using the right injectors we can link homes to genuine high-quality broadband. Our technology has the necessary 5Mbs. We do not use a single technology, but adapt a combination of technologies according to the circumstances.”

For instance, it uses optical fibre cables to get to an electrical substation, and then links to individual homes by the electricity cables from the substation.

The model requires a certain density of homes in an area to justify the connection, and it therefore targets housing estates — and not necessarily high-income ones.

It has already rolled out small networks in the major urban centres, and has close to 1000 homes connected.

Unlike satellite TV, broadband TV will target not only the upper-income groups but also middle income and even lower.

Lasserre says that, at the moment, the bandwidth in some areas is not sufficient for real- time viewing, and people will have to download — “but in future, it will be real-time”.

Telkom is also readying a pay-TV offering and conducting trials. But for such services to make an impact in South Africa will require a complete overhaul of the system of charging by the amount of bandwidth consumed — at least for new services that require large downloads and long periods of continuous throughput.

Whatever speed of connection a network provider promises, the end user is likely to enjoy only 40% to 50% of that speed due to “latency”, according to Nick Keene, country manager for Citrix Systems Southern Africa.

Keene explains that the Achilles heel for wireless broadband is its reliance on Internet protocol (TCP-IP) which is approximately 38 years old. “Because it has proliferated worldwide , we are stuck with it. It has not been significantly changed, other than additional service standards in the form of RFC standards. While other technology has a life span of only two to three years, TCP-IP remains the same,” he says.