Article | Altech UEC opens high-tech STB factory

Technology company Altech UEC has opened a high-tech facility outside Durban with an annual manufacturing capacity of three-million digital set-top boxes (STBs), which are needed as South Africa and sub-Saharan African countries convert their television signals from analogue to digital transmission.

With demand for STBs in South Africa expected to reach more than nine-million, and a further 30-million required for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the company has consolidated six buildings on two sites into a single, state-of-the-art, 13 500 square metre factory at Mount Edgecombe.

“Our investment in this facility is in direct support of government policy,” Altech CEO Craig Venter said at the launch on Wednesday. “Not only are we employing people in the factory, but services such as packaging, delivery and installation will create tens of thousands of small business opportunities in the years to come.

“In the process, people will acquire new skills, equipping them for the next wave of ICT innovation and development.”

Economic spin-offs destined to be huge

Venter said the economic spin-offs are destined to be huge – from technical support to retailing – while the increased demand for broadcast content, especially regional-based programming, will create more jobs for local content producers and their supply chains.

“New jobs will be created all down the delivery chain, while millions will be able to benefit from better education and communication through new electronic means,” said Venter. “Digital migration creates an opportunity to build a globally competitive export sector that is an objective of the [government’s] Industrial Policy Action Plan.”

Venter said the new generation STBs would enable millions of people in South Africa and the wider region to access digital television.

Resuscitating local research and development

Venter said ICT innovation, driven by intellectual property, was a “cornerstone of global competitiveness”. There was therefore a need to resuscitate local research and development and, while a South African Silicon Valley might be far-fetched, poverty could only be eradicated by economic growth, which depended on competitiveness.

“In a world where everybody has access to the same technological tools, competitiveness depends on how the technology is applied to harness information and create new knowledge,” he said. “People and countries who can meet these demands are the ones who succeed.”

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