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Testing of DTV networking this month, channels to go on air May 25

Terrestrial digital-TV (DTV) broadcasts will officially commence on May 25 after network testing through to April 24, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said yesterday.

The NBTC office made the announcement during a press conference on the transitional period for DTV, which began network testing yesterday.

Secretary-general Takorn Tantasith said the public may not be able to watch all 24 DTV channels during the testing period. However, all channels will officially have to go on air on May 25 after the watchdog grants licences to the operators on April 25. The network operators will initially focus during the trial period on the first four provinces in which digital TV will be available: Bangkok, Nakhon Ratchasima, Songkhla and Chiang Mai.

Viewers can watch the 24 DTV channels by using digital set-top boxes, while those already possessing cable or satellite set-top boxes can also access the channels nationwide during the trial period.

The NBTC plans to distribute free coupons to all 22.9 million households for the purchase of a set-top box by June, when the DTV network is expected to cover 11 provinces in total. The additional seven provinces are Ubon Ratchathani, Surat Thani, Rayong, Sing Buri, Sukhothai, Khon Kaen and Udon Thani.

The watchdog's goal is to cover 50 per cent of households nationwide by June, 80 per cent by the end of the year - and 95 per cent by the end of next year. NBTC member Supinya Klangnarong said there had been some small technical problems during the first day of the trial run, including the numbering of the channels.

Right now, only some pay-TV and satellite-TV platforms can watch the new DTV channels, while TrueVisions users are set start to airing them on April 17, she added.

Meanwhile, the transition to DTV is a boon to Interlink Telecom, a fibre-optic network operator, which has won the DTV signal-switching service contract for 12 operators, including Nation Group, Voice TV, BEC Group and Thai Rath.

Teera Kanokkanjanarat, senior ICT industry analyst at Consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, said the transitional testing period was highly important in terms of finding technical errors and any other potential difficulties before the full launch in June.

"For the NBTC and spectrum providers, although this trial period will have coverage limited to four provinces, the feedback will provide good evaluation on network coverage, signal transmission quality, the digital cliff [sudden loss of digital signal reception], public comments, technical emergencies, and effectiveness of the current public-relation campaign," he said.

Frost & Sullivan believes that case studies on DTV transition in other countries can be used as guidelines and provide good lessons for Thailand's DTV road map.

The Thai road map has many similarities to DTV transition undertaken in the US, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to use Wilmington in North Carolina as a DTV test market, he said.

Although the FCC had done a significant amount of PR in many media channels prior to the launch, it turned out that more than 7 per cent of the population had technical difficulties.

The agency's call centre also received more than 1,800 calls on reception problems, mainly concerning set-top box configuration, antenna set-up and signal scanning, said the analyst.

There was also a large part of the population with a limited understanding of the DTV system, and all these issues escalated to the point that Congress had to evaluate the possibility of delaying the launch date, he added.

The transitional testing period will have a genuine impact on the future of DTV in Thailand, and all stakeholders should closely monitor movement and feedback, from the point of view both of TV broadcasters and the general public, Teera said.


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