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Digital TV decoder tender delayed
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 00:00
Written by Nicola Mawson
The Department of Communications (DOC) will allow international companies to compete to make five million government-sponsored set-top boxes (STBs).
It has also postponed issuing a tender for the manufacture of subsidised decoders, which will delay getting boxes onto shelves, despite digital TV going live in October.
SA is moving to digital TV using the European DVB-T2 standard, and aims to turn the signal on in the fourth quarter of this year, with switch-off targeted for within two years of turn-on.
About 10 million households will need decoders to watch digital television, and government has set aside R2.45 billion to subsidise about 70% of the boxes for five million poorer households. SA also hoped to fulfil Africa’s need for about 100 million boxes, which were set to be made by local companies.
DOC spokesman Siya Qoza says issuing the RFP “has taken longer due to the unique nature and magnitude of the project”. He adds the DOC expects to release the RFP by the end of next week, and it will be out for a month before it is finalised.
Digital migration has been plagued by delays since it was first mooted in 2006, and several deadlines have already been missed.
“As this is one of the biggest projects the department has ever undertaken, it is important that all stakeholders in the project are adequately consulted,” says Qoza. He says the STB manufacturing process will go ahead as planned, and the DOC aims to launch by the last quarter of 2012.
Qoza adds the tender is open to all qualifying companies wherever they may be in the world. The bidding companies must comply with the specifications of the RFP, which includes that the bidding company must have a factory in SA.
DiViTech COO Bertus Bresler says, realistically, the tender document is only likely to be issued towards the end of July, which means it may only be awarded a month later.
The department seems to have realised there are a few more technical specifications that must be sorted out before companies can move ahead with full manufacture, says Bresler. These include STB controls, user interfaces and the rules of operation.
Currently, some parts of manufacture can move ahead without clarification on software, but this is risky, says Bresler. However, he says, there seems to be a sense of urgency within the department to wrap up outstanding issues.
Bresler explains it will take three months for components to arrive in SA once they have been ordered, which means there is only a slim chance that a small number of boxes will be on shelves in December.
It is likely that SA will have small-scale trials in October, says Bresler. STB manufacturers that are not close to a final box design will not be likely to have boxes on shelves by April, at the earliest, he notes. “There’s a lot that still needs to happen.”
About 36 local companies recently responded to the DOC’s request for information to manufacture subsidised STBs, as SA gets ready to turn on digital television.
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