ISDB-T, Botswana say yes, SADIBA seems prefer DVB-T2
(Botswana ISDB-T SADIBA DVB-T2) The Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA), a voluntary industry forum dedicated to promoting the introduction of digital broadcasting technologies in the region, has found it necessary to comment on inaccuracies in media coverage on the topic of digital terrestrial television (DTT) standards and specifically claims made about the ISDB-T standard.
This SADIBA statement is in specific response to Botswana’s decision to adopt the ISDB-T standard.
The statement reads: We acknowledge that the subject matter is highly complex and difficult to report on. The association offers the following in the interest of clarity: there are several Digital Terrestrial Television standards deployed across to globe:
DVB-T – Digital Video Broadcasting for Terrestrial – a digital terrestrial television standard widely implemented across the globe.
ISDB-T – Integrated Service Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial – a digital terrestrial television standard developed and deployed in Japan with a variant thereof deployed in Brazil and adopted by several South American countries.
DVB-T2 – Second Generation standard for Digital Video Broadcasting for Terrestrial – a highly advanced 2nd generation system that uses the latest technology to offer more robustness, flexibility and at least 50% greater efficiency than any other DTT system.
ATSC – Advanced Television Systems Committee for digital television – a set of standards developed by the transmission over terrestrial, cable, and satellite networks and implemented in the USA, Canada and South Korea.
Media reports on the DTT standards decision in Botswana stated that the decision was “the result of a thorough process of research and evaluation of available options”.
SADIBA is of the view that performance testing, evaluation and costing of technology standards are empirical and scientific processes that must yield the same results regardless of the team of engineers, accountants and economists conducting the studies. Where the results do not align, an investigation into the reasons for the deviation is called for.
Since the launch of the 2nd generation DVB-T2 standard in September 2009 numerous countries around the world have, like Botswana evaluated the DTT standards available, ran
engineering trials and assessed the economics of implementation.
Independent research done at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa in 2010 assessed the features of DTT technologies. They concluded that “Results indicated that DVB-T slightly outperforms ISDB-T. The latest DVB-T2 system is, however, far more superior”.
More than 60 countries have since 2009 adopted DVB-T2 as standard4. DVB-T2 networks have become operational in amongst others Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the UK, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. DVB-T2 chipsets and receivers are available from competing manufacturers and millions of DVB-T2 devices have been sold worldwide. Prices have consequently dropped dramatically.
The growing number of commercial deployments of DVB-T2 across Asia, Europe and Africa bear witness to the fact that DVB-T2 is the world’s most advanced terrestrial broadcast standard. It undisputedly delivers 50% more capacity than ISDB-T (or DVB-T) and is unrivalled in its flexibility and features by first generation standards.
The Botswana press coverage paid particular attention to “the ISDB-T system’s hierarchical mode of operation which allows for the simultaneous transmission to fixed, mobile and portable receivers from a single transmitter” and considers this a “significant advantage over DVB-T2”.
No mention is made of the fact that even first generation DVB-T also has a hierarchical mode of transmission and can transmit fixed and mobile broadcasting services using one frequency and transmitter.
It would seem that the assessors missed the fact that DVB-T2 offers even greater flexibility through technology features such as Multiple Physical Layer Pipes (or MPLP) and DVB-T2 lite. On one transmitter and in one transmission the respective PLPs are configurable to offer varying degrees of reception robustness as one would require for simultaneous delivery of services to different reception environments (eg. fixed vs. portable outdoor).
DVB-T2 with MPLP capabilities and DVB-T2 lite provides unrivalled flexibility for the simultaneous delivery of services for different reception environments. In fact it does so delivering double the capacity compared to first generation standards ISDB-T (or DVB-T).
The media reports remain silent on the fact that Japan has since 2010 licensed and rolled-out additional networks for mobile multimedia reception using a new technology standard called ISDB-Tmm. The fact that an additional standard had to be developed and additional networks have been rolled out in Japan to deliver mobile network coverage suggests that media statements on the ability of standard ISDB-T technology to deliver simultaneous fixed and mobile service coverage are inaccurate and misleading.
Botswana media reports state that the hierarchical mode of operation of ISDB-T “allows for the provision of direct transmission to Batswana through multiple handheld devices, including cell phones, as well as traditional receivers”.
The fact is that current GSM mobile handsets available in Botswana will not receive the broadcast service. Only handset fitted with an additional ISDB-T receiver would be capable of receiving the ISDB-T broadcast service. Such handsets will cost more than GSM mobile handsets currently in use in the market.
It must be clarified that every home, not already connected to satellite TV, would require either a new integrated digital television (iDTV) or a set-top box (STB) in order to receive the digital transmissions. The combined cost of these access devices constitutes the single biggest cost of the digital transition of any nation.
Studies back in 2010 showed that ISDB-T STBs (for 6 MHz ISDB-T) in retail were significantly more expensive than DVB-T STBs with equivalent technical capabilities. In some cases these devices were even more expensive than the far more complex 2nd generation DVB-T2 devices just launched commercially at the time7 8.
Media coverage on ISDB-T fails to consider the importance of harmonised standards and mass production of the consumer electronics devices in order to drive costs down. The radio frequency channel bandwidth used in Africa is 8 MHz and not 6 MHz as is the case in all the countries in which ISDB-T has been deployed. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the mass produced ISDB-T devices available and those required for Botswana. Unique chipsets and ISDB-T receivers would need to be developed exclusively for Botswana.
A massive investment will be required to industrialise an 8 MHz ISDB-T solution. Media reports from Botswana are silent on whether any international chipset manufacturer has committed to producing such chipsets and what the chipsets and receive devices would cost.
What is clear is that a fragmented one-country 8 MHz implementation of ISDB-T is unlikely to ever see the mass production volumes required to yield a drop in chipset- and receiver prices to anywhere near those of mass produced DVB-T and DVB-T2 chipsets and receivers.
In the context of non-availability of 8 MHz ISDB-T receivers and the cost of building such devices it is unclear how a decision for the ISDB-T could be seen as resulting in “socio-economic development” that would “transform Botswana into an E-Society” as is claimed in media reports.
SADIBA is of the view that a transition to DTT will only be achievable if the viewing public is motivated to change, can afford the receive devices and gets access to the improved service quality and more channels.
A decision to implement the aged minority ISDB-T standard puts a nation on the back foot. It burdens citizens with unnecessary costs, reduces prospect of costs dropping in future and reduces the benefits possible from the transition to DTT. It sets a country up for a wasteful 2nd transition to a newer technology in future. A decision for ISDB-T by an African country isolates that country from the region and the rest of the world that is implementing and benefitting from implementing cutting edge 2nd generation technology DVB-T2.