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Friday, February 03, 2006

Ménage à trois

The newest buzzword on South African telecoms consumer activism sites these days seems to be ‘triple-play’. This term that has been appearing more and more regularly on articles on sites such as ITWeb and MyADSL refers to service bundles that include high speed internet access, voice telephony and pay-TV. While no such service is currently available in South Africa, a number of companies are currently planning such functionality, with some already in the testing phase.

These developments are interesting for a number of reasons. For one thing, both SA’s fixed line telephony and pay-TV sectors are currently monopolized (by Telkom and MultiChoice, respectively), though a new competitor in the fixed line market has been granted a licence to operate and should begin offering services sometime in the middle of 2006. This interest in triple-play by companies including Telkom, Vodacom and state broadcaster SABC mean that for the first time these companies will be facing serious competition, and strangely enough from companies that each hold a monopoly of sorts in their own sector.

From the consumer point of view, this is great for a number of reasons. On the fixed line and broadband side of things, it’s no secret that Telkom could do with a bit of encouragement to drop prices to reasonable levels, and for Telkom’s IPTV approach, a 3Gig capped sub-1MBps ADSL connection will simply not cut it, and they will be forced to drop these prices (and raise or altogether abolish the cap) to make IPTV viable using their services. Lowering broadband costs will also make VOIP a more viable and cost effective voice telephony alternative. From a pay-TV view, South African’s currently have a very limited choice, with ironically-named MultiChoice’s DSTV being the only solution-and at about R450pm for 100 channels, it’s not a cheap solution. With Telkom, SABC and possibly even Vodacom looking to move into the pay-TV market, DSTV will be facing some stiff competition. There is also a new broadcaster - Black Earth TV - looking to enter the market, apparently with a package that will eventually provide about 500 channels for R100 a month, which will definitely make things interesting.

Another interesting development is that SA’s TV architecture will soon be pulled out of the dark ages. The vast majority of South Africa’s broadcasting is still analogue, but SABC is in the process of securing funds to be able to switch over to digital broadcasting systems, which will not only provide better quality to the consumer and lower cost to the broadcaster, but will free up the very cluttered spectrum for more broadcast allocations.

It looks as if the next two years will be extremely exciting for South African broadcast and communication technology, and it can only benefit us, the consumers that have been screwed over for far too long.



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