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2013-10-06 14:00

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Maxwell Nonge, who heads Platco Digital, did not know how to operate a payphone, but is now the brains behind a new satellite TV platform, writes Lloyd Gedye

For Platco Digital’s managing director, Maxwell Nonge, it all started with not knowing how to operate a payphone at Durban Station.

This week, City Press sat down with Nonge to get the lowdown on OpenView HD, the new satellite TV platform that is potentially the biggest threat so far to MultiChoice in the broadcasting sector.

It’s difficult to believe, but for Nonge, the lack of ability to operate the payphone as an 18-year-old, new arrival in Durban, was the catapult that threw him into studying electronic engineering and rising up through the ranks of Vodacom, Siemens, Sentech and now

He heads up Platco Digital, the technical arm of the group of companies that fall under parent company Sabido Investments.

Nonge has been working on OpenView HD since October 2011. His peers at insist he was the one with the original idea for a free-to-air satellite TV platform, but he is modest and insists the team deserves the credit.

The new TV service will launch next Tuesday with decoder-and-dish packages that hit stores at the beginning of this month. Installation will begin from tomorrow.

The new TV service’s tag line is “pay once, enjoy forever”, because consumers will only have a once-off cost of R1?599, including installation, for a satellite dish and a decoder.

After that, there are no monthly charges and no contract for the service.?There will be 15 channels.

Nonge said the gap between free-to-air and pay-TV has been big in terms of service offering.

“ wanted to launch HD channels but felt it couldn’t do that on the spectrum allocation it had been given by the regulator on the DTT (digital terrestrial television) platform.”

According to him, the dominance of pay TV in South Africa posed a massive risk to the terrestrial, free-to-air market due to the share of the advertising market pay-TV was pulling in.

“People feel like they have to go pay-TV because there is nothing else out there,” said Nonge.

Asked if OpenView HD will be a competitor to the DTT platform, Nonge said digital terrestrial would have limited capacity, and “we don’t believe it will be enough to slow the migration to pay-TV”.

Nonge said he was excited that millions of South African children will, for the first time, have access to educational and child-friendly content at home.

“If I had these channels when I was at school, I would have done a lot better,” he said.

His two sons, aged eight and five, have access to all kinds of content and his eight-year-old can speak better English than he can.

“He has started to correct me and I have to say: ‘Hey, give me a break, I only learnt the language at 16,’” Nonge chuckles, but he has made his point.

He grew up in rural Limpopo, in a family of eight children headed by a single mother, in a village called Ha-Davhana.

At 18, he left for Durban to begin his studies in computer science. But after that payphone light bulb moment, he enrolled to study electronic engineering in 1996.

Nonge is a network specialist who has built and run complex networks for Vodacom in Tanzania and Mozambique.

He joined Sentech in November 2005.

In 1998, he picked up a document about video on demand and realised that in the future this would be a huge business opportunity.

“It was then that I decided I needed to get into broadcasting,” said Nonge.

“My main reason for moving to Sentech was that I wanted to understand broadcasting from a commercial point of view.”

He would quickly rise through the ranks to the point where he was appointed general manager of operations and maintenance, running the Sentech network countrywide.

He also acted for a period as the executive in charge of technology at Sentech and oversaw the World Cup project, a task he is still proud of.

But he resigned shortly after the World Cup.

At the time, City Press reported that Nonge had blown the whistle on alleged irregular payments to a company owned by then communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda and was targeted by the signal distributor for this action.

A few months later, appointed Nonge as the group executive of business development.

One of his main responsibilities was heading up’s digital terrestrial migration.

It was during this period that Nonge is said to have come up with the idea for OpenView?HD.

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