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Digital switchover: Nigerians in the dark as Kenya, Ghana forge ahead

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THOUGH countries of the ECOWAS sub-region are working on a common format of migration to digital broadcasting, peoples in many African countries are aware of the digital migration and what it entails, unlike the Nigerian public which largely is still ignorant of the development, save a few informed individuals.

Sensitization of the entire continent had been taken up by Multichoice, the global pay TV giant which has sponsored a series of conferences tagged Digital Dialogue, aimed at sensitizing publics in African countries of due obligations as the June 17, 2015 switchover deadline approaches.

The first of the sensitization conferences held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last year, followed by a second one in Lagos, also last year. The third in the series of Digital Dialogue conferences held last month in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Ghana, an ECOWAS country, is almost ready and the country’s public is aware of the digital switchover. Kenya is ahead of most African nations, by far. Daniel Obam from Kenya’s National Communications Secretariat disclosed that by December, Nairobi and environs, up to 70 km radius, will have its analogue signals switched off, while by March 2014, other cities like Mombasa, Kisii, Nyeru, will be switched off in phases.

ECOWAS nations are signatories to the GE-06 Agreement, under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which established a frequency plan for Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT) in the bands 174–230MHz (VHF Band III), 470 – 582 MHz (UHF Band IV) and 582 – 862 MHz (UHF Band V). The GE-06 pact requires member states of the ITU to complete a transition from analogue to digital transmission, in the first instance, by 17 June, 2015 in UHF Bands IV/V and subsequently, by 17 June, 2020 in VHF Band III.

What informed this
The onward march of technology spurred initiatives in this direction. Hitherto, whenever people switched on their TV sets and searched for channels to view, often they come up with some static, accompanied by much noise. In the case of radio, frequencies allocated to stations need to have “buffers”to guard them against interference from other stations. That is in the analogue format. Thus, Digital Terrestrial Transmission technology came up as a way of making broadcast signals transmission and reception more efficient in terms of clarity of audio and video.

A digital broadcast studio
A digital broadcast studio


It also ensures precision broadcasting. The only thing needed by the average man on the street for this is what is called a set-top box (STB). Call it decoder, if you like. Thus, from June 17, 2015, analogue signals will be switched off and nations worldwide are expected to be digital. In addition, with DTT, more stations can occupy the same frequencies than in the analogue format. Thus, a lot of frequency “space”can be freed for other uses, especially for broadband and related services. DTT is already in the second generation, called T-2. In a presentation, Gerhard Petrick of the South African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA) said the 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.

The Nigerian problem
The Nigerian angle of this digital migration is that the people just don’t know what is going on. While it is accepted that some work is in progress as the Federal Government constituted a “Digi Team” to oversee migration to digital broadcasting, the snag is that targets of the development — ordinary Nigerian folk — remain in the dark about the issue, despite the launch of DTT in the country.

For now, only pay-TV operators like Multichoice, Star Times, and others are on DTT platforms. Not many Nigerians, relative to the entire population are aware that Nigeria had opted for DTT-2 more than five years ago. Former director-general of the National Broadcast Commission, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa had disclosed at the second Digital Dialogue held last year in Lagos 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.

Awareness problem
The public here is still unaware that there will be need to acquire set-top boxes (STBs) in order to receive TV signals in the future. They also do not know why, and in addition, they do not know how much it will cost. Excepting the sector of the population that can afford pay TV, the rest of the country is in the dark.

What is worse, the awareness problem had generated issues of its own, especially in the area of consumer protection. Despite the fact that government had opted for T-2, the broadcast regulator was indifferent as an operator, Star Times aggressively marketed T-1 boxes to unsuspecting members of the public at rock-bottom prices. This is what Gerhard Petrick warned against in his presentation, counseling regulators against “huge risk of DVB-T dumping.”

Work in progress
However, it is gladdening to note that some work is in progress. Edmund Yirenkyi Fianko, Manager, Engineering at Ghana’s regulator, the National Communications Authority of Ghana disclosed at the Dubai conference that ECOWAS member states at a conference in Abuja earlier in July agreed on:
la deadline of December 2014 as the date for the completion of Analogue Switch-Off (ASO) in the UHF band
lthe minimum specifications for Integrated Receiver Decoders should be harmonized by ECOWAS Member States in order to create economies of scale to drive down prices.

Fianko also disclosed in his presentation that a few weeks after the Abuja talks, member states again agreed at another summit in Accra that

*The First Draft Common Specifications (dated 30 Aug. 2013)should be translated into French and circulated by 10 Sept 2013

*Each member state shall apply for Original Network Identification (ONID) from DVB Services

*Each member state shall provide language character codes and power supply plug in the country specific annex of the draft DTT receiver specifications.

*Minimum specifications to be finalised 24-26 Sept 2013 for adoption by ICT Ministers on 27 Sept 2013 in Banjul, Gambia.

In fact, Fianko left the Dubal Digital Dialogue Conference to attend the talks in Banjul. Perhaps it is after all these that authorities here will begin sensitization programmes. Only time will tell.


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