Vodacom scores World Cup on S. Africans’ cell phones

Mobile content for finals a first for local b'casting

South Africans will be able to watch this year’s World Cup soccer finals, which kick off June 9 in Germany, on their cell phones, a first for local broadcasting.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has granted leading cell phone operator Vodacom a license to test its digital video broadcasting handheld (DVB-H) technology during the monthlong soccer event.

Paycaster MultiChoice also will be broadcasting the event to DVB-H-enabled phones manufactured by French firm Sagem.

Vodacom has been preparing to enter the local pay TV market with cell phones that double as television decoders, and chief operating officer Pieter Uys said it was looking forward to testing the technology during an event that’s such a big viewing draw.

Vodacom’s move to set up its own cell phone pay TV network would entail an investment of millions, of dollars, he said, but it’s aimed at enabling Vodacom to compete effectively with MultiChoice in the future.

Icasa is preparing to open up the pay TV market in South Africa, which has long been dominated by MultiChoice’s DStv satellite service and its terrestrial channel, M-Net. The regulator invited bids for new pay licenses in January, with the deadline for applications set for the end of July. Icasa hopes to have new licensed pay TV operators by the middle of 2007.

Uys said by setting up a BlueTooth connection between a cell phone and a television set, channels offered by Vodacom also would be able to be viewed at home. Vodacom already offered some DStv channels on Vodacom’s 3G Vodacom Live, but the technology was limited, and the quality was much better on DVB-H.

MultiChoice said it had been testing its DVB-H technology since November and was ready for its trial run next month.

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