Although it is possible for Sentech to meet its 2010 deadline for the upgrade and digitisation of its television broadcasting signal distribution network, SA's road to digital broadcasting will not be an easy one, says Thabo Komane, manager in the office of Sentech's CEO.

He says challenges include regulatory issues, impact on consumers and the switchover from analogue to digital systems.

“Although it is our plan to have our systems ready in 2010, we might not as yet experience a total country switchover by then, as replacing transmitters is no easy task.”

Komane says the government will seek various ways to minimise disruption and confusion caused by the full switchover to digital terrestrial television broadcasting.

“For example, the government could call on manufacturers and retailers to stop the import of analogue TV systems towards 2010, thus phasing out analogue television sets and allowing digital televisions into the country.

“Although digital TVs are currently expensive for average consumers, as with all other electronic products, TV prices will go down with time.”

He says the switchover will provide wider coverage and free up frequencies, creating space for more television channels. “This will, in turn, allow ICASA to license more players in the terrestrial television broadcasting environment.”

The state-owned telecommunications operator says the R1 billion the government pledged to Sentech will be dispatched in tranches on an annual basis until the project is completed.

Sentech media relations officer Penny Ntuli says digital switchover plans are being finalised but the roll-out depends on the finalising of regulatory requirements.

“We have a digital terrestrial television pilot site that has been running for the past four years to test the transmission. This enabled us to understand the technology and optimise operational parameters,” says Ntuli.

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