The GSMA at the weekend launched a new report, “Digital Migration Process in Kenya”, to highlight the valuable lessons that could be derived from the country’s experience with its digital switch-over in the last 10 years. With the rough road ahead, Shola Sanni , the Policy Manager Africa, GSMA, in this interview with Emeka Aginam said that actualising the digital switchover and using Digital Dividend spectrum for mobile broadband will be a massive step forward towards realising full digital inclusion as well as the national objective of the 80 per cent mobile broadband penetration target that the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2012-2018 set for Nigeria. According to her, governments in the region should learn from Kenya’s success factors.
What Nigeria can do to meet up with the June 2017 DSO deadline
I think it’s important for Nigeria and other countries in the region to take learnings from Kenya’s digital migration experience. One thing that’s come out from the study the GSMA conducted there is the fact that digital migration is a complex process that requires consideration and implementation of a broad range of issues, from policy to market factors, funding and stakeholder engagement. It is important for any country undertaking this process to get it right so that the benefits of Digital Dividend spectrum can be realised.
The GSMA’s report on Kenya’s digital migration process provides useful information and practical guidance to regulators and policymakers across the continent who, as in Nigeria, are planning or currently undergoing a similar migration. In terms of specific action areas, the report highlights key success factors such as developing a well-planned roadmap for digital migration, seeking and taking into account input from stakeholders, ensuring there is buy-in across the ecosystem and also addressing consumer issues such as the need for awareness campaigns and the affordability of set-top boxes.
Lessons for Nigeria
The majority of African countries missed the initial deadline of June 2015 for completion of the migration, likely more as a result of policy, technical, funding or other challenges and presumably not for lack of willingness to migrate. For us, Kenya’s experience is particularly interesting because planning for the analogue to digital migration actually began in 2006. From the findings of the GSMA’s study, it was obviously not an easy process, but one critical objective, which was to free up digital dividend spectrum to support future mobile services, was ultimately realised.
The key lesson from Kenya’s experience for countries planning or undergoing digital migration is that irrespective of what challenges the process faces, they can be overcome. Policymakers across the region need to step up efforts to clear the Digital Dividend bands and actually go further to license the freed up spectrum for mobile services. This would ultimately yield major social and economic benefits.
Role of GSMA
We have taken the first step by publishing the report on Kenya’s digital migration process, which provides a step-by-step guide on the strategies to adopt, pitfalls to avoid, stakeholders to engage, training to undertake and other measures geared towards successfully moving from analogue to digital broadcasting. Government can draw learnings from this report to achieve a successful migration process as in the case of Kenya. We’d also like to note that digital migration is only the first step. The reality is that spectrum has no intrinsic value, but can be a very valuable resource when put to productive use. So as important as digital migration is, it is even more important to implement the freed up spectrum from the migration for actual use by mobile operators after migration is complete.
Addressing funding challenge
The transition of an entire nation’s broadcast infrastructure from analogue to digital is an expensive undertaking and, in the GSMA’s experience, usually involves considerable funding from both the public and private sectors. In general, private sector funding has allowed for infrastructure development while government funds paid for public outreach and set-top box price reductions, though not always in the exact same splits. The important point to note is that funding the process should be a collaborative endeavour between the stakeholders.
Benefits of digital broadcasting
The consumer benefits arising from digital switchover are widely recognised and happen relatively quickly. Consumers have a broader choice of programming and services at better quality than is currently available to them, interactivity with user-friendly interfaces and convenience through services like video-on-demand. In a competitive multi-channel, multi-platform environment like Nigeria, digital television provides opportunities for terrestrial broadcasters to address the challenges posed by pay TV operators and over-the-top offerings through the internet. They benefit from spectrum efficiency gains and increased transmission capacity, improved signal quality and robustness, and lower energy consumption and maintenance costs.
There are also the broader benefits to society of introducing digital TV including the potential to use digital broadcasting to narrow the digital divide, reach unserved areas, and to provide e-government and other digital services. Digital Dividend spectrum is ideal for mobile broadband because it consists of lower-frequency bands that can cover wider areas with fewer base stations than mobile broadband spectrum that relies on higher frequencies. This lowers deployment costs and allows operators to provide broader, more affordable coverage, especially in rural areas where connectivity can be a challenge. But beyond just rural areas, Digital Dividend spectrum also supports improved indoor coverage in urban areas, because these frequencies can more easily penetrate buildings. So looking at the bigger picture, utilising Digital Dividend spectrum for mobile services helps drive broadband penetration.