Frequently Asked Questions

South Africa has embarked on a process of migrating its broadcasting services from analogue to digital. This is known as Broadcasting Digital Migration. The main focus of the migration process is Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT).  This set of Frequently Asked Questions should assist with general information on the process.

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What is DTT?

DTT stands for digital terrestrial television (or digital terrestrial transmission). It refers to the terrestrial broadcasting of television in a digital format. Currently, terrestrial television in South Africa is broadcast in an analogue format. The country is in the process of planning and implementing migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

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Terrestrial television uses a network of transmission towers to relay the signal across the country.  Each transmission towers has a specific area of coverage, and it is the network of coverage that provides television signals across the country.  The broadcast signal is set to the various towers and if you are within the area covered by a tower, you will be able to receive the broadcast services via a terrestrial aerial – which is usually place on your roof or on your television set. 
In analogue, the signal is transmitted in the form of electromagnetic waves. This is not the most efficient way of transmitting TV signals. In digital, the signal is encoded and can be compressed – this will therefore allow for more channels to be broadcast. A minimum of eight new video channels can be provided in the same frequency as one analogue channel.
Satellite television broadcasts, on the other hand, uses satellites in the sky to relay the signal to earth via a satellite dish.

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Why are we migrating from analogue to digital?

The main reason for the world’s migration to digital, is to release valuable spectrum which can be used for other services.  Spectrum is scarce, therefore more efficient use of the spectrum is necessary if more terrestrial telecommunications and broadcasting services are to be made available.  South Africa also coordinates its frequency plans with other countries to ensure that there is no interference between various countries’ broadcasting signals.  Currently, analogue broadcasting is protected from interference, but this protection will stop by 2015.  It is therefore necessary to complete the migration from analogue to digital by 2015.

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Has this migration been done elsewhere in the world?

Yes.  Worldwide all countries will have to do the migration to ensure ongoing coordination and protection from interference.  Examples of countries that are advanced in their migration process include the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States, France and Mauritius.

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Will I need a satellite dish to receive DTT?

No, you will not need a satellite dish to receive DTT. The satellite signal is not the same as the terrestrial signal, which is received using a terrestrial TV aerial.

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Will I need a new aerial to receive DTT?

It is unlikely the most current viewers of SABC and eTV will require a new aerial to receive DTT.  However, some viewers may require new aerials, or may need to upgrade existing aerials. In some instances aerials may have to be adjusted. At this stage it is unclear who will be affected by such adjustments, but the majority of viewers will not require any changes to their aerial installations.

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Will I need any other additional equipment to receive DTT?

You will need to have a DTT Set Top Box. This Set Top Box is not the same as the Multichoice satellite box or the current MNet decoder.

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What is a Set Top Box (STB)?

The Set Top Box is a receiver that will decode the digital signal to enable the channels to be displayed on your analogue television set. This Set Top Box will plug directly into your TV set.

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Why do I need a Set Top Box?

You need a device that decodes the digital signal received via a standard aerial antenna and supplies the TV set with a video signal. Without the Set Top Box you will be unable to view the digital television services on your television set. 

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What will the Set Top Box cost?

It is estimated that the retail cost of the free-to-air Set Top Box will be in the region of R400 - R700.  This will be a once-off cost for purchasing the STB.

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Do you need a Set Top Box to receive the DTT services if you have  DSTV?

DSTV is a satellite service. The satellite signal is different from the DTT signal and the two systems are not compatible. DSTV subscribers will continue to receive the existing and some future free-to-air channels. However, if you wish to receive all the DTT free-to-air services you will have to purchase a DTT Set Top Box.

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Where can the Set Top Box be bought?

Set Top Boxes aren’t available for sale to the public yet. They will most likely be available during the first half of 2010.  Watch the press for details!

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How is the Set Top Box installed?

The Set Top Box is a plug and play device.  It is installed by connecting the cable from the TV aerial to the Set Top Box (normally RF IN at the back) and then follow the Set Top Box installation menu using the supplied manual.  You could also get assistance for installation by a professional installer.

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If I have five TV sets in the house, will I need five Set Top Boxes?

Yes, if you want each individual TV set to view a different channel. Other models of Set Top Boxes with functionality that allows you to connect more than one TV to a single Set Top Box may be developed and made available at a later stage. This  STB will however be more expensive.

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Will I need to pay a subscription every month like DSTV?

No, the purchase of the STB is a once-off cost.  The free-to-air channels such as SABC and eTV will continue to be available for free – no subscription fee will be charged. However, you will still have to continue paying your TV license.  You will also need to pay a monthly subscription fee if you choose to subscribe to M-Net.

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Will I need to buy a new television set to receive DTT?

No, you do not need to buy a new TV.  All current analogue television sets will be able to receive DTT.  You also do not need a high definition (HD) TV, LCD TV or Plasma TV to receive DTT.  Note, that no television on the market will be able to receive the Digital TV channels without the STB.  A TV that is ‘digital ready’ or ‘HD ready’ does not mean that it can receive the digital TV broadcasting without a STB.

You should also be cautious of buying old analogue technology products just because it is cheap.  Analogue technology is being phased out around the world.

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How do I establish if my TV will be compatible to the Set Top Box?

All television sets will be compatible to the STB – either via the RF/Aerial input in older television sets, or via the RCA/audio and video inputs in modern television sets

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When will the Set Top Box and the new DTT services be available to me?

It is anticipated that the service will be available to the public in 2010. However, there are a number of areas that still need to be resolved before the service is available to the public. This includes testing of the service to ensure that everything works as it should before consumers spend money on purchasing Set Top Boxes.

It is also important to note that the digital network will be rolled out over a period of three years. Therefore, you will need to check when the digital signal will be available in your specific area. Information will be made available on exact areas of coverage and when these will be covered closer to the time of the public launch of the service.

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What if I cannot afford the Set Top Box? Does this mean that I will not be able to watch television after 2011?

In August 2008 Government announced its plans to establish a support for ownership scheme to assist poor households that cannot afford a Set Top Box. More information will be available in due course about how to access the subsidy and how government will monitor and control the process.

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Will this migration only affect the SABC?

No.  The migration will affect the free-to-air channels of the SABC and eTV, as well as MNet.

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What are the benefits of digital TV?

Digital TV will give you access to more free-to-air channels, in addition to the current channels offered by SABC and eTV.  Broadcasters intend to make a range of new services available on the additional channels, including interactive services such as games, weather and information services.  Other benefits include better picture and sound quality, access to an Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) in the television screen, enabling you to view your TV guid on the TV screen.

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The digital TV test signal was switched on 1 Nov 2008.  What happened on this date?

On 1 November 2008 the digital signal was switched on by Sentech, thus making the digital signal available to test DTT and STB technology.  From this date, the broadcasters, manufacturers and Sentech began to test DTT services and technology.  This trial is being conducted with a small sample of viewers.  However, this does not mean that the public will be able to go out and buy a STB to receive the signal as yet.  Once the services and technology have been tested adequately, and all other related processes are in place, STBs will be made available in retail stores.  The actual date will be confirmed and communicated to the public as soon as all relevant logistical, legal, technical and policy issues have been addressed – this is anticipated to be during the first half of 2010.

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Why is the DTT launch to the public taking so long?

The digital migration process is extremely complex and requires the cooperation and agreement of several stakeholders in the industry.  Significant progress on many key issues has been made, but there are still areas that need to be completed before a  full DTT launch can take place.  This includes the finalisation of DTT regulations  and the issuing of licences to terrestrial broadcasters by ICASA, the finalisation of a frequency plan, the roll-out of the DTT technology by Sentech, the technical specifications for STBs, the manufacturing of STBs, and the development of channel content by broadcasters.  This is expected to be completed during the first half of 2010.

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What is the Digital Dzonga?

The Digital Dzonga is an advisory body that was established to manage the digital migration process on behalf of Government.  The Digital Dzonga Council is made up of a wide range of representatives from government, broadcasters, manufacturers, labour and consumer groups which were appointed by the Minister of Communications.

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Who are the various role players and what are their roles?

Digital Dzonga – a body established to oversee the migration process for the country.
Broadcasters – terrestrial broadcasters need to migrate their services onto digital.  The main affected broadcasters are SABC, eTV and MNet.  They will be responsible for establishing new services, migrating existing services (SABC 1, 2, 3, eTV, MNet) to digital.  Broadcasters are the most affected parties in the process (apart from consumers/the public), as they will have to manage analogue and digital services during the dual illumination transition period – i.e. a period of approximately three years during which both the analogue and digital signals will run parallel, whilst migration is being completed.
Signal Distributors – responsible for rolling out the digital network infrastructure on behalf of broadcasters.  The main signal distributor affected is Sentech.  Other signal distributors, such as Orbicom (for MNet) are also involved.
Government – responsible for developing the policy for broadcasting digital migration.  They are also responsible for ensuring that funding is available for the scheme for ownership support for poor households, and for the development of a STB manufacturing strategy.  The Department of Communications is driving this process on behalf of government, and will work with other government departments such as National Treasury.
ICASA – the regulator responsible for regulating the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.  ICASA will be responsible for the frequency planning and allocations, and the issuing of licences for digital services.  New digital services cannot be launched without a licence or authorisation from ICASA.
Manufacturers – responsible for the manufacturing of STBs and to ensure that the boxes are compliant with the standards set and do actually work.
Retailers – making the STBs available for purchase by the public and to provide accurate information to consumers so that they can make the right choices when purchasing STBs.  Other organisations are also included here, such as the South African Post Office, which could be used as a distribution outlet for the STBs.
Consumers – responsible for ensuring that they have the information they need to make informed choices and to ensure that they get the necessary STBs timeously before the analogue signal is switched off.

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