Slow digital migration hurts mobile TV in areas of Africa

South Africa lags behind Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana

The slow progress of digital television migration and a lack of clear telecommunications policies are hampering the development and use of mobile TV in South Africa.

The country is the continent's technology powerhouse, but is lagging behind in the implementation of mobile TV because of a delay in the migration from analog to digital TV.

The conversion process started on Nov. 1 last year and is now scheduled to end on April 30, 2012.

South Africa's digital migration process encountered a major setback after E-TV lodged an urgent suit with the Gauteng High Court seeking to stop the implementation of the regulations that govern the conversion of the country's analog broadcasting signal to digital.

In the dispute, E-TV expressed unhappiness about receiving only one additional channel in the proposed new channel allocation on the digital platform.

Rayner says it has been a struggle to get a license, despite having about 400 people trialling the service since 2005, based in major areas such as Gauteng, Soweto, Capetown and Durban.

"The advantage is that former president Thambo Mbeki promised to have mobile broadcast in place when accepting to host the FIFA football World cup, set to start next June," added Rayner.

DStv mobile is partnering with MTN, Africa's biggest mobile network to deliver audio, video, and data to make an interactive digital life for people attending the World Cup next year.

"MTN is working with local content companies in the 22 markets it operates in and will provide a useful mix of gaming offers, fantasy leagues, prediction, trivia and allow fans to upload their content," said Bertram Cameron, Portal Content Manager at MTN.

In other parts of Africa, mobile TV has taken off, with Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana leading. The service is currently free and offered in collaboration with mobile phone companies. DStv mobile is hoping to attract a huge number of the 51 million mobile phone users in Nigeria as well as Ghana's 7 million and Kenya's 15 million.

"People are watching mobile TV when bored, traveling, during a break and spare moment. The most popular content is soap operas, African movies, music and news," Rayner added.

However, Rayner and Cameron concur that mobile TV efforts have been greatly affected by lack of affordable handsets. The cheapest mobile TV-enabled handset costs about $150, which is beyond reach for the majority.

Live mobile TV uses DVB-H handsets and currently the companies are working with Nokia to provide affordable handsets, officials say.

DStv mobile is hoping to work with mobile phone service providers in the region to demonstrate available content and by April next year plans to start charging for services.

In most countries, telecom policies are not fully developed, which has made it easier for DStv mobile to get licenses. In some countries like Kenya, the unified license regime ensures that one license allows operators to provide converged services over several platforms.

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Rebecca Wanjiku

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