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Vodacom’s bid for a share of SA’s pay television market will not bring the cellphone operator into conflict with pay television monopoly MultiChoice, says group chief operating office Pieter Uys.

Vodacom has been in negotiations with the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to secure a digital video broadcasting handheld (DVB-H) licence.

The cellphone operator is preparing to compete with MultiChoice in the pay- television market, with cellphones doubling up as television decoders. Uys said he expected Nokia’s DVB-H phones to be introduced in September.

Vodacom’s move to set up its cellphone pay-television network, which Uys said would “run into the hundreds of millions”, could lead to conflict with MultiChoice, as the current pay-television monopoly offered some of its channels on Vodacom’s 3G Vodacom Live.

Uys said the 3G technology was limited and that the DVB-H technology was of a “much higher quality”.

By setting up a BlueTooth connection between a cellphone and a television set, channels can also be viewed at home on a bigger screen.

A MultiChoice spokesperson said that, together with M-Net, the group had been trailing DVB-H technology since last November and was not aware of Vodacom’s pay-television plans.

Uys said there should be no conflict with MultiChoice. “We are in discussions with them because, in the end, it is about the content and we would not want to duplicate. Someone will have to build such a network and we believe we can do that.”

MultiChoice, in its submissions to ICASA, said any attempt to undermine the principle of exclusivity would lead to less investment, lower quality, less content and a decrease in SA’s role in African broadcasting.

“Exclusivity and the advantages which flow from it are important for future subscription broadcasting services, which will have a strong need to differentiate themselves from one another to attract subscribers.”

Icasa’s acting senior broadcasting policy manager, Pfanani Lishivha, said no limit would be placed on the number of licences issued. The closing date for applications is the end of July and the regulator expects to have new licensed pay-television operators by the middle of next year. At the recent 3GSM World Congress in Spain, all major global handset manufacturers said they were developing phones for cellphone television on high-quality plasma screens.

Naspers’ share price closed 2,7% lower yesterday, as analysts suggested that the market was factoring close competition for the group’s South African pay-television operation.

Testament to the new competition was MTN and Infront Sports & Media signing an exclusive agreement to broadcast this year’s soccer world Cup in Germany, through mobile telephony.