DVB-T Milestone in the Caribbean

Being the first countries in the Caribbean and Latin America to begin digital terrestrial television broadcasting, the islands of Curacao and St. Maarten, formerly territories of the Netherlands Antilles are recognized as the regional and unconventional leaders in the transition from analog to digital TV. 

Not only did the islands begin DTT transmissions in 2006, but they selected DVB-T as their transmission standard in a region where the US market is dominant. On the recommendations of the regulatory authority, the Bureau of Telecommunicatie en Post (BTP), the first DVB-T channel transmission occurred alongside the existing NTSC analog broadcasts. The entire process began as early as 2004 when the BTP selected DVB-T after conducting several in depth studies and analyzing worldwide technical papers and pilot projects on digital television. 

Being located in the Caribbean where the NTSC system has been the analog television standard for many years, it was and is still considered a very ‘risky’ decision in the eyes of the critics. However, the numerous advantages of DVB-T over the ATSC standard at that time were the decisive factors in selecting DVB-T. Today the gap between DVB-T and ATSC has diminished with respect to quality, efficiency and interference issues. However, the economies of scale with regards to receiver availability, type (i.e., hybrid STBs) and price continue to be dominant factors for the selection of DVB-T.

The UHF band, from 470 MHz up to 697 MHz according to the Region 2 Band Plan, has been divided into three sections. The first 48 MHz section, intended for free-to-air (FTA), is divided into six multiplexers, each one designed for 8 MHz DVB-T channel transmission. The multiplexers will be implemented by existing local broadcast license holders. Newcomers will be licensed on the basis of a program stream method in which they will be required to deliver their programs to one of the existing multiplexers for further distribution. RF transmissions will be supported by means of a centralized combining system for all the multiplexed signals. This will be administrated through an association in which all broadcasters will have representation and be supervised by the BTP as the regulatory authority.

The rules for operation at centralized transmission points, in which all transmissions take place under the principle of Single Frequency Network (SFN) management, have been created by the BTP. Extensive studies have been conducted by BTP’s advisor, LS Telcom, to determine the best transmitter sites, coverage analysis and system parameters.

Pay television services will be delivered over two blocks of 80 MHz of spectrum, each awarded to a major operator by means of a ‘beauty contest’, and one 8 MHz channel awarded to one smaller operator. With the new trend towards DVB-T2 and the lowering costs of STBs and IDTVs, this new state-of-the-art technology has become very attractive for allocating competitive pay-TV services.  The demand for HDTV services and 3DTV is growing more and more and DVB-T2 seems the most appropriate and efficient technology to deliver program streams up to viewer expectations.