Thursday, April 16, 2009

Road to Digital TV - a satisfying experience

Road to Digital TV – a most satisfying experience

I think it was around February of 1998 that the company received
word from the authority that Singapore had to adopt a digital TV
standard soon as the world was already digitising. There were 3 world standards then - DVB from Europe, ISDB from Japan and ATSC from USA. The Singapore Broadcasting Authority then wanted a test of the three standards as Singapore’s high-rise buildings of residential houses is almost unique and could pose a problem for digital television reception. Lee Cheok Yew who was then the CEO got me to get quotations for a test and an evaluation of the three systems. The quote came to a $1m dollars from a reputable company. The reply from him was “Shit !#@* much... do it ourselves.. Tay you get your engineers to test it! And report” This assignment turned out
to be one of my most satisfying in my career. I took up the challenge.

I visited the three standard bodies in Tokyo, Geneva and Washington to get the experts to come to Singapore to test the three standards. We set up a national committee (chaired by me) and representatives from the industry and institutions of higher learning. The experts and our local engineers took 3 months all over the island to do the field tests. The result led to the adoption of the European DVB standard mainly because of its ability to
to offer mobile services and acceptable signal ruggedness. (I made a presentation to George Yeo who was MITA's minister then, he approved and officially announced the DVB standard for Singapore) Subsequently the company was given licences to operate digital services for channel5, 8 and ChannelNewsAsia as well a TV Mobile service. The TV Mobile service on the buses was the world’s first for Singapore and in a way established the island as one of the leading test beds for digital television services. It was one of the most successful project the company engineers had ever done.(we saved the company $1m bonus and i dont remember us getting a bonus!!Ha Ha!)
In the 2000-2003 we had many visitors from the USA, China, Russia, India, Taiwan..etc to study the system in Singapore. Beijing and Shanghai quickly adopted tvmobile services. Taiwan too introduced mobile TV in the buses. These services proved to be commercially very successful there. But for Singapore, because of its size, it was an upheld task trying to make money from TV services in moving vehicles.
Before long the idea of trying to get the countries in this region to adopt the same standard was mooted. I was given the task together with the regulator and our friends in RTB to help convince the ASEAN countries to adopt the same standard. And we travelled to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Phillipines to sell the idea of a common digital TV standard for the region. Mainly for the reason of economies of scale and mutual benefits in digital services. This effort paid off when the ASEAN Ministers for Responsible for Information finally approved the adoption of the European DVB standard for digital television in ASEAN region. This effort was one of the most challenging and satisfying experience with my friend Mr Lim Chin Siang of MDA and Haji Ibrahim of RTB. 10-20 years down the road when DTV is prevalent in all the countries in this region we would remain the unsung heroes.. on the road to digital television.

Comments are welcomed from the industry especially those who were involved in the test for a national DTV standard for Singapore. Email:

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