By ADEKUNLE ADEKOYA, General Editor
DUBAI, UAE — COUNTRIES of the ECOWAS sub-region are working to adopt a common implementation plan for digital transition as the June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) approaches.
This disclosure was made by Edmund Yirenkyi Fianko, Manager, Engineering at Ghana’s regulator, the National Communications Authority of Ghana.
Fianko said this in the course of a presentation he made at the Digital Dialogue Conference holding here in Dubai, UAE.
The conference is sponsored by global pay-TV leader, Multichoice, and is the third in the series, the first two having held in South Africa and Nigeria respectively last year.
He also said that that ICT ministers in the sub-region will meet this week in Banjul, The Gambia to approve protocols and specifications on digital transmitters and set-top boxes that will henceforth be imported by countries in the region to fulfill needs generated by the digital migration.
One of such protocols, he said, includes character set specifications so that set-top boxes can appropriately decode programme and station names in local languages. He said that if these specifications were not made, names of stations and broadcast programmes in several languages will not decode properly.
For instance, the name of a radio station like FAAJI FM, or a television programme like Kaakaki will not decode well if the manufacturers of set-top boxes do not have the appropriate character set specifications.
These, among others, are what ICT ministers of the sub-region will deliberate on at the Banjul meeting.
For Nigeria, the yet-to-be tackled issues revolve around network roll-out (for broadcast organizations), and the all-important issue of set top boxes (decoders) that members of the public will need if they are to continue receiving signals from television stations. This need arises as free-on-air TV signals will no longer be available from June 17, 2015, the ITU deadline.
Regarding set-top-boxes, there are issues regarding specifications, manufacturing, distribution, retail and installation of the set-top boxes. As things stand, majority of the Nigerian viewing public are in the dark regarding the source of the set-top boxes, who makes them, where they can be purchased, and at what prices.
A sector of the population that subscribes to pay-TV services however remain smug as their service providers are offering digital decoders.
Former director-general of the National Broadcast Commission, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa had disclosed at the second Digital Dialogue held last year in Nigeria that since 2008, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had approved that Nigeria should key into the digital migration process with T-2, the latest technology in digital broadcasting.
In a presentation, Gerhard Petrick of the South African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA), said that countries beginning the transition should leapfrog the technology gap by opting for set-top boxes driven by the T-2 technology. However, this issue is problematic in Nigeria as some service providers are still aggressively selling T-1 decoders to unsuspecting members of the public.
For the rest of the public who are largely unaware that they will need set-top boxes to receive broadcast signals, the industry regulator, NBC, will have to gear up to ensure that one of their fundamental rights, the right to freedom of information is not infringed on when the analog signals are switched off.
This is because, as Petrick added in his presentation, there will “be no protection for ATVs (analog TVs) after 2015,” and those who are still locked in the analog format of broadcast signal reception “will have to contend with signals from digitally compatible” neighbours. Countries like Togo and Benin Republic fall into this category as they are yet to launch digital terrestrial operations.
However, the advantages of T-2, both for broadcast organizations and the viewing public are over-arching. For broadcast organizations, DVB-T2, according to Petrick “yields 67% more payload at equivalent coverage and network cost” than T-1.
However, Kenya seems to be ahead of other countries on the continent, as Daniel Obam of Kenya’s National Communications Secretariat told the conference that his country will begin the digital migration this year as it switches of analog signals in Nairobi and environs this December, followed by other cities like Mombasa, Kisii, Nyeru, and others in phases next year.
Ana Aguilar of Deloite’s Economic Consulting Group in her presentation highlighted the economic benefits of digital migration, saying the proliferation of channels, content, platforms and devices will generate employment opportunities in both the broadcast and entertainment sectors, while the multiplicity of channels will create new revenue channels for the advertising industry.