Digital terrestrial TV €70m spend a waste of taxpayers’ money?

24 Aug 2010

Ireland could make better use of the digital dividend opportunity and RTE could avoid spending €70m on digital terrestrial television (DTT) since 80pc of the population already subscribe to cable and satellite services, a telecoms industry executive warned.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic, the managing director of wireless broadband firm Airspeed Liam O’Kelly pointed to the fact that across Ireland 80pc of homes now subscribe to digital services through either satellite or cable and that the key providers already have sophisticated and evolving video on demand (VoD), HD as well as forthcoming 3D TV services.

O’Kelly who has experience in building transmission networks for RTE and TG4 has built a sizeable business providing wireless broadband services ranging in speeds from 20Mbps to 800Mbps across a range of frequencies and platforms, including WiMax.

His company AirSpeed was founded by a group of ex-broadcast and ex-Nokia Siemens engineers and have won considerable business providing wireless broadband to a range of businesses, education institutions and government bodies.

Last month the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan TD announced that analogue services would be shut down forever by the end of 2012.

He said that RTE is already at work building a €70m replacement digital service which is expected to provide full national coverage as well as significant coverage throughout Northern Ireland. The new service will provide coverage to 98pc of the population.

Also last month RTE revealed that as part of the digital switchover plans it will launch a new satellite service to reach the 2pc of the population that falls outside of the terrestrial coverage.

However, according to O’Kelly the €70m could be a waste of taxpayers’ money and that the spectrum that could be freed up by the shutting down of analogue could be put to better use such as spectrum for education usage or emergency service usage.

“Already most of the country is using digital services. If you drive from Dublin to Galway you would notice that TV aerials are disappearing, most people are using either cable or satellite. Why don’t they [RTE] forget about digital terrestrial television and the money can be invested elsewhere.”

O’Kelly said that elsewhere in the world, in countries like France, many people are already watching TV over internet protocol (IP) links whether its DSL, cable, wireless or satellite.

“TV over IP is developed and mature in other markets, it’s just not supplied here. The way that consumers consume content is changing. Any investment in a digital terrestrial network that doesn’t have a strong internet element is a waste of money.

“I have been involved heavily in TV and broadcasting over many years and wish people would cop on. The game has moved on massively and very shortly TV will be an IP-based medium. People will download what they want when they want it and watch it when they want to.”

Last month O’Kelly’s company acquired Magnet Networks’ licensed spectrum in a move that will allow it to expand its WiMax network.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years