‘Africa needs to adopt unified system of technology for successful digital switchover’

2017 is a critical year for Nigeria/Africa to meet the analogue switch-off deadline, and by following a pan-African approach to technology, financing and content development - all citizens can be guaranteed of enjoying a digital life.
Modibbo Kawu

Is’haq Modibbo-Kawu

2017 is a critical year for Nigeria/Africa to meet the analogue switch-off deadline, and by following a pan-African approach to technology, financing and content development – all citizens can be guaranteed of enjoying a digital life.

Apart from clearer images, increased channels for content and easier reception, the availability of radio spectrum will allow expansion of the internet-based technology.

All countries across the globe are required to make a complete switch from analogue transmission to digital following the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agreement.
A digital broadcasting plan, covering 116 countries (mainly in Africa and Europe), was agreed to for the frequency bands 174–230 MHz and 470–862 MHz at the ITU Regional Radio Communication Conference in Geneva in June 2006.

According to this plan also known as the GE06, the analogue switch-off date was June 17, 2015, except for some countries in some frequency bands where the deadline is 17 June 2020.

The GE06 Agreement of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) established the Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting Frequency Plan in the radio frequency bands for the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Band and Very High Frequency (VHF) Band.

With the final deadline fast approaching, more African countries are seeking to achieve a complete digital switch but have faced challenges in terms of technology, infrastructure and financing.

The transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting seems a complex process, requiring the involvement of legislators, regulators, broadcasting companies; content producers, broadcasters and network operators, manufacturers and viewers.

It would be recalled that in March this year, the Director General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Malam Is’haq Modibbo-Kawu, had in a communiqué listed six states, one from each geo-political zone of the country for Digital Switch-Over, to include; Kaduna in the North-West, Kwara representing North-Central, Gombe in North-East, Enugu, South-East, Osun for South-West and Delta for the South-South. He had attributed the success of DSO to the collective effort of all stakeholders namely, Digiteam Nigeria, Broadcast Signal Distributors, Set-Top-Box manufacturers, channel owners, partners (CCNL and In view technologies), and Call Centre Operators.

But as Nigeria’s deadline of June 20, draws closer, and the chances of achieving total digital switch over grows slimmer, stakeholders have begun the search for options. For instance, StarTimes has continued to prove itself a reliable partner in the implementation of digital migration Transmission by adopting a unified approach to adopting technology across Africa.
The Pay TV has established an enormous network system, which is able to provide service to millions of subscribers. With a signal distribution platform, a Direct-to-Home satellite platform, and a digital terrestrial TV platform, StarTimes has made its signal available throughout the African continent, Europe continent and part of Asian continent. It has also partnered with various governments in establishing public-private-partnership (PPP) in implementing digital migration.

Joint ventures also mean that governments can focus limited national budgets on other essential sectors such as education, health and development sectors – while ensuring that the digital broadcast sector commences as a viable business and social endeavor.

Its Direct-broadcast satellite television, also known as “Direct to home” (DTH), delivers television programming using signals relayed from space radio stations, like the digital video broadcast – DVB satellites).

Some of its transmissions and channels are unencrypted and therefore free-to-air or free-to-view, while many other channels are transmitted with encryption (pay television), requiring a subscription.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is an implementation of digital technology. DTT provides more channels and better quality of picture and sound, using aerial broadcasts to a conventional antenna (or aerial) instead of a satellite dish or cable connection. DTT is transmitted on radio frequencies through the airwaves, which is similar to standard analogue television except for one primary difference, the use of multiplex transmitters to allow reception of multiple channels on a single frequency range.

Currently the transmission standard for DTT is DVB-T2 H.264 but is soon to be upgraded to H.265.At the 7th African Digital TV Development Seminar, which was attended by almost 400 participants from 43 countries with the main purpose of sharing knowledge around the digitization process, held recently in Beijing, China, StarTimes President, Mr. Pang Xinxing had stated that Africa could realise the target of providing affordable digital TV to every household through the adoption of unified technology and business models.

The theme of the Seminar was ‘Universalize Digital TV and Enjoy Smart Life’ and according to Xinxing, digitisation is a complex technologically intensive process that requires huge capital investment. “It should be seen as a social project because it will affect how people receive and share information,” he said.

The world digitization process is being undertaken to free up spectrum for the growth of the information technology industry.Tanzania’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Professor Elisante Ole Gabriel, had stated during the seminar that a completely digitized Africa was vital, as it would empower citizens especially in the rural livelihoods with necessary information.

The prof. was quoted saying, “Through digital broadcasting farmers can get information about the market for their crops and also access extension services where access to experts is limited.”

However, African countries must begin to develop legislation and policies against the introduction of outdated technology on their markets.Regulations around the use and importation of analogue or second-hand digital broadcast equipment should be discouraged.

Africa is on a steady march forward in terms of digitization and should take full advantage of being latecomers to the field. Late adoption of digital technology means, more African countries stand to benefit from cheaper but more efficient systems and will also allow for easier technology and content sharing.

Many parts of Africa still face challenges in terms of electricity supply and access, but in recent times new approaches and technologies have been developed to ensure that all parts of the continent can be covered by a digital signal and at minimal cost.
The benefits of digital migration automatically opens up opportunities for African governments to provide more internet based services while providing a platform for more broadcasters and content providers to come on board, and the increase in content channels will see an increase in employment of people in the creative industry.

New broadcast stations no longer have to invest in transmission equipment, and additional players to the information technology sector will also translate in an increase in revenue from taxes to governments.

Financing of the national digital migration process has been a hurdle that many countries are still to overcome but with the support of the Chinese government several financial institutes have made long-term low-interest loans available.

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