Nigeria: Dump ground for T-1 boxes?

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By Adekunle Adekoya

THE lack of public awareness of issues involved in migration to digital broadcasting had created a lacuna which some operators exploited to the detriment of unsuspecting Nigerians, Vanguard Hi-Tech findings show.

Nigeria had initially set this year as the mark-up date to digitize its broadcast system, but due to poor preparation and zip awareness, the date had to be shifted to January 2015, which is still some few months ahead of ITU’s June 17, 2015 deadline. When analogue broadcast signals are switched off, every TV set will need a set-top box (decoder) without which it cannot receive signals. Set-top boxes are mainly of two types, according to the technology. These are DVB-T, and DVB-T2. You may call them, for ease of reference, T-1, and T-2.

The United Kingdom, for instance, began the migration process in 2005, with T-1 set-top boxes, according to Ms Beth Thoren of Digital UK, in the course of her presentation at a Digital Dialogue conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

She then cautioned African countries implementing the migration to opt for T-2, as people in the UK who had initially acquired T-1 boxes now have to replace hem with T-2 boxes whose technology offers more channels and clearer pictures. But Ms Thoren’s advice may have come too late for some African countries as hundreds of thousands of T-1 boxes have been sold and are still being sold with feverish alacrity.

Kenya, Uganda axe DVB-T

Some countries, like Uganda and Kenya did not even wait for Ms Thoren’s advice; of their initiative, they outlawed T-1 (DVB-T) decoders. In its place, they insisted that operators put in place the DVB-T2, the second generation decoders, which have been adopted as the new broadcast standard.

Ugandan authorities have already fixed a deadline for a halt to the use of DVB-T for 21 December, 2012. A Ugandan newspaper, the Daily Monitor quoted Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s ICT minister, as warning Ugandans against further purchase of DVB-T (T-1) decoders. His words:

“Before you purchase any decoder, inquire which technology it is. If it is DVB-T1, don’t buy or else you stand to lose as the decoder will expire at the end of the year. The adoption of DVB-T2 technology means that we must ban the importation and sale of the old technology (DVB-T1). It will affect many people but it is the right thing to do, ” Rugunda told the newspaper.

Last July, Kenya, Uganda’s neighbour, also announced a ban on the importation of the analogue broadcast technology. This has been estimated to leave about 16 million Kenyans with the burden of dealing with the high cost of migration to the digital platform via the acquisition of DVB-T2 set-top boxes or decoders.

The Communication Commission of Kenya said the new technology offers better picture and sound quality, 50 per cent more programme channels on one TV frequency and a larger coverage area by TV transmission station. The switch to the new technology implies that other than consumers buying the new gadget, licensed digital signal distribution firms in Kenya have to make their platforms compatible with DVB-T2 technology.

In both countries, StarTimes, a Chinese-owned Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) service provider, has been accused of flouting the ban on further importation and sale of DVB-T decoders. Uganda Consumers’ Protection Awareness Association (UCPAA), a consumer rights association, recently flayed the service provider for its continued sale of the outmoded technology.

“Investigations carried out by the UCPAA in the market and the ongoing advertising subsequent to the announcements indicate that STAR times continues to sell and distribute DVB-T technology at knockdown prices despite the fact that these STB (Set-Top Boxes) are to be phased out in the near future and will be unable to receive television signals once the UCC sets up its DTT infrastructure, which will support DVB-T2 but not DVB-T,” said UCPAA.

DVB-T still selling Nigeria

In 2010, StarTimes began operations in Nigeria, and started selling set-top boxes with T-1 technology, despite the fact that Nigeria had committed to the T-2 technology as far back as 2008, a development confirmed by the Director-General of the National Broadcast Commission, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa at Digital Dialogue Nigeria 2012 which held in Lagos a fortnight ago.

If Nigeria had committed to T-2 since 2008, how come the broadcast regulator allowed StarTimes to import and continue to sell T-1 boxes in the country? Is StarTimes dumping decoders nobody else wants in Nigeria? Till date, the firm is running promos and jingles offering its decoders to the public at just N2,999.

However, Ayokunle Idowu, StarTimes spokesman in an interview denied that his firm is dumping decoders on Nigerians, and explained the promo as an effort on the part of his company to ensure that “ordinary Nigerians enjoy the benefits of digital broadcasting,” and explained that the downward review in the prices of the decoders, fromN7,000 to N3,000 is further effort in this regard.

DVB-2 on sale this December

Idowu, in the course of the interview also disclosed that StarTimes has started selling T-2 decoders from this month. How about hundreds of thousands of subscribers who had bought T-1 decoders?

“If they recharge for two months they’ll get an upgrade to T-2, he said. Despite stocking and offering T-2 decoders for sale, StarTimes is still selling T-1 decoders. TAYE OBATERU, Vanguard’s Plateu State Correspondent reports that General Manager of NTA Star TV, Jos, Shuaibu Haruna told newsmen that the second generation terrestrial  Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB T2) decoders currently available in some cities would soon be extended to other places.

He said places like Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt and the rest currently using the DVBT-1 decoders would in due course be upgraded to use the latest version. According to him, each frequency of the DVBT-2 technology has the capacity to transmit 25 channels and that the StarTimes currently has 75 channels as compared to the DVBT1 that can only transmit a maximum of 55 channels. He said this informs the difference in price of the two decoders.

The general manager said the company has five bouquets which offer over 70 channels for the unique bouquet while basic bouquet which is the least, offers over 32 channels. “StarTimes is ensuring its loyal subscribers and prospects are not left out of technological digital advancement and are given the best digital revise affordably”, he said.

He added that the  DVBT2 decoders goose for N5,900 with two months subscription on the basic bouquet while the DVBT1 decoder goes for N2,900 with one month subscription.

Regulator looks away

What remains unclear is why T-1 decoders are still on sale in a country that had chosen T-2 four years ago, with the industry regulator yet to do anything about it. Right now, Nigerian subscribers are paying and may continue to pay for a device that is on its way to oblivion.

DVB-1 decoders will be phased out and replaced with DVB-T2. Nigeria, according to the Digital Migration White Paper already signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, is expected to commence implementation of this process with a view to meeting the digital migration deadline of 1 January, 2015.

Though subscribers who have purchased StarTimes’ DVB-T1 decoders will find it possible to upgrade to DVB-T2, failure to upgrade before the analogue switch-off will be more expensive. Since the DVB-T1decoder is incompatible with DVT-B2 , a recall of the former from subscribers will therefore be necessary, but recalls happen only in structured economies. Will this be a signal of structuring in Nigeria? Time will tell.

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