Sentech's Aldred Dreyer to lead SA's digital migration project

Communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane has announced that Sentech executive Aldred Dreyer will head up a new Project Management Office (PMO) to handle the country's stop-start migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Mokonyane told media in Pretoria on Monday that the department had started building the PMO to operate outside the department, in an effort to accelerate the stalled, ten-year migration process.

"Mr Dreyer's knowledge in the project is unparalleled, as he recently led a similar project in neighbouring Namibia with great success," Mokonyane said.

Mokonyane asked that the industry at large help Dreyer, who will be given leeway to assemble his own team, with resources and insight so that he can manage the migration.

The department will also be setting up an advisory council in the coming weeks to advise Mokonyane on issues relating to the analogue switch-off date, and in getting buy-in from the public to go digital.

The nationwide project has been hampered by changes in leadership and stalled government policy since 2008. South Africa missed the international June 2015 deadline to migrate to digital transmission and switch off analogue transmitters.

Mokonyane acknowledged the "reality" that SA was "way behind schedule", and analogue broadcast signals were currently not protected from possible International Telecommunications Union interference.

M-Net is currently the only broadcaster that has successfully migrated to digital and has switched off all analogue transmitters.

"We deem this to be a significant milestone, and therefore commendable as it releases high demand spectrum for mobile broadband services to our people."

Free State to get accelerated set-top box delivery

A revision to the current delivery model was "inevitable" as the department tried to accelerate the switch-off, which would be revealed upon consultation with Cabinet.

This would include considering partnerships in industry, the relationship between efficiency and affordability, inclusive participation, and transparency and accountability.

"Government cannot do it alone," Mokonyane said.

"It requires collaboration and partnership with industry and the public so as to share resources, skills and expertise."

Acting director general Dr Mashilo Boloka said government did not yet have a specific policy on what to do with the leftover spectrum once the entire migration project was complete.

It would be a balancing act between what would be best for the public, and which role players could make the most efficient use of the available bandwidth, be it within radio, cellphone or another industry.

The department will also go on an "aggressive" roll-out of set-top boxes in the Free State, so that it can switch off the province by December this year.

Set-top boxes will enable residents with older, analogue-based televisions to continue watching the new digital products.

"We therefore appeal to the people of the Free State to start applying for the subsidy or purchase the digital-enabled equipment so that... they are ready and enjoy uninterrupted transmission [by the December date]."

Icasa to issue digital radio licences

In the next few weeks, the department will also issue a policy directive allowing the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to initiate a licencing framework for digital South Africa.

Mokonyane said there was much scope to ramp up efforts to introduce digital radio to the broader public.

Successful trials by Sentech and other industry players showed the market was "fertile" to introduce more digital options for radio.

"For us, this is critical, given the congestion of the FM frequencies in regional markets such as Gauteng.

"An introduction of digital radio will allow industry growth and increase diversity within the industry."

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