Set-top box bollocks

In around six months, South Africa’s commitment to the international broadcast community to move from terrestrial to digital (satellite) based TV broadcasting will fall due. Despite many years to solve and implement the technology and an endless stream of assurances of compliance, this deadline is now almost certain to be missed.


The official line is disagreement over standards, design, manufacture and digital rights – should the boxes be encoded and supply their content only to registered (and one imagines, licensed) viewers?


As many government ministers as years have gone by while these critical issues remain unresolved. And, the cynical amongst us inevitably opine that it is much more likely to be squabbling about who will get the (financial) benefits from the multi-billion Rand manufacture and supply contracts that is holding up a decision.


Meanwhile the nation’s sore tarnished international image, gets a little more grubby.


Here’s an alternative suggestion; the rate of change of technology is such that in recent years, we have seen the demise of many household processes and big names. Pre-conceived ideas and plans have disappeared as the Internet makes its presence felt in every facet of our lives. Here’s a reminder or two;


Nokia used to make the 6210 and 6310 – the best cell phones ever. That was until Apple came along. Today, Nokia is a Microsoft subsidiary. ‘nuff said.


Retail music stores have all but disappeared.


In many countries, book shops have disappeared as we buy from Amazon, the iTunes store and read on Kindles and iPads. Meanwhile, many international bookselling giants have shut their doors. In SA, we’re a bit behind this one, but it won’t be long…


In a similar vein, how long will retail pharmacies like Clicks and co. remain? As soon as someone troubles themselves to work out how to same-day deliver orders placed over the Interwebs, these chaps with their huge staffs, stock and retail spaces are doomed.


So, what has this to do with the set-top box?


If you’re as pissed-off with DStv as most subscribers seem to be, you will already have explored the world of VPN connections and streaming TV content and movies – IP television as it’s sometimes called. Making it work is a little convoluted and costs a few dollars a month, but it works and around a fifth the cost of DStv.


It would work even better if we had just a bit more bandwidth at a competitive rate.


So much so that a limited-option domestic 3G (or better) router easily could deliver everything the set top box would offer with much, much less hassle and far superior management control.


Most of the country is already covered with the cellular network, much of it 3G and some already 4G and better. And, as 3G technology is upgraded in urban areas, that kit could be moved into the rural areas and provide plenty of bandwidth for the foreseeable future.


With government sponsored (free) bandwidth in return for paying a TV licence, a simple home router could be devised to connect to the network, log in to a ID and licence-based connection to the TV resource, to allow the viewer to select feeds from SABC and/or eTV as free viewing, or alternatively DStv, and/or other selected services as paid, proprietary content, programme by programme.


Away go all the arguments about locked systems and what’s free-to-air as now if you can pay for it, it’s available. No cables, no uplinks, easy licensing and payment, simple.


Job done. All with existing technology and end-to-end protection of rights. No satellite costs, so set top boxes to enrich the decision makers and a choice of TV programming that can be delivered from anywhere and anyone with a feed and a server.


What are we waiting for?