Multichoice 2 TB PVR is 'like a little cloud in the home'

AMSTERDAM -- In a keynote whose purpose was to talk about how major operators are utilizing the latest broadcast technologies to reach their subscribers--4K, HEVC and fiber-based broadband--the perspective that had everyone's ears perked up was that of Gerdus van Eeden, chief technology officer at Multichoice, a South Africa-based provider faced with the challenge of delivering high-speed Internet and IP-based television in a region with precious little in the way of bandwidth.

"Given the lack of the kind of Internet suitable for video we have to stretch the classical broadcast model much longer," van Eeden told an audience at a first-day keynote here. "We have to make that work for us for a longer period of time than a developed market."

Multichoice provides digital satellite TV and Internet services in the sub-Saharan region, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and several other African countries.

Video on demand, for example, is a challenge on networks with slower speeds. Bottlenecks in traffic can cause significant delays in delivery, making VOD delivered from a CO impractical. Instead, van Eeden said, Multichoice offers its pay TV subscribers a PVR with a 2 Terabyte disk, which downloads "massive amounts of VOD" as a method of catch-up to the device. "It's like a little cloud in the home that we offer to customers," he said. The PVR can hold up to 60 movies, 140 series episodes, sports content, children's' shows and so on.

To satisfy demand for streaming video content, van Eeden said the provider uses mobile DVB-H (digital video broadcasting-handheld) as a substitute. "We have an entire ecosystem of devices… consumers can choose from to get this content," he said, including Android-based dongles and self-contained devices. The success of DVB-H--a commercial failure in the EU and the United States--in the African market has Multichoice considering expanding DVB-H to other devices such as tablets. "It's a unique mix of market conditions but we shouldn't lock it into a mobile phone," van Eeden said. The company also offers streaming over 3G networks, where available.

Payments is another area in which Multichoice has had to get creative. Africa has a robust mobile market, with many consumers using the cell phone not just as their primary voice line but also to conduct business, handle banking transactions and so on. "Churn is much higher as we don't lock people into contracts. Every market has a different payment method… We have to integrate them all into our systems," he said. For example, in some markets "we have to use SMS [-based payments for subscribers] to purchase TVOD content."

van Eeden's description got the panelists talking. Olivier Huart, CEO of TDF Group, saw Multichoice's solutions as a possible way to get the Europeans who can't access high-speed broadband onto faster Internet service.

Peggy Johnson, EVP of Qualcomm Technologies and president of global market development, noted that Multichoice could take advantage of more 3G or LTE-enabled products, like set-top boxes and similar on-premise devices, for its on-demand and catch-up services.

Multichoice may not have to struggle for bandwidth much longer, at least not in South Africa. A number of new submarine cables are planned for the country on the recently established Fortaleza, Brazil-to-South Africa route, offering up to 100 Gbps speeds and the possibility to spur wireline broadband growth throughout the continent.

Show coverage: IBCLive 2013

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