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Nigeria, others fail to meet digital transmission deadline

Digital switchoverWITH barely a week to the deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for countries to switch from analogue to digital transmission, there is no hope that Nigeria and some other sub-Saharan African countries will be able to meet the migration deadline. Only Kenya and Tanzania have achieved the feat.

Indeed, after the 2006 Geneva agreement between the ITU and member countries, to which Nigeria was a signatory, a June 17, 2015 deadline date was set and agreed by member nations for switchover from analogue to digital transmission. The process is expected to help set free from the broadcasters some spectrum frequencies, otherwise known as digital dividend, which other sectors, especially the telecommunications industry, can deploy to provide better services.

Already, because it will not meet the deadline, Nigeria has asked for an extension by the ITU, with new focus on December 2017 for her to be able to migrate from analogue to digital transmission.

Digital migration refers to the shift from analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting, involving many changes in the transmission signals so that members of the public can buy high definition television sets and dispose of their standard definition television sets.

Narrating the successful transition process yesterday in Beijing, China, at the 5th edition of the yearly African Digital TV Development Seminar, organized by StarTimes, Tanzania’s Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Dr. Fenella Mukangara, said the country started migration in phases from 2009 into 2012 and completed the process on April 30, 2015.

Mukangara said though the process was challenging, “with government support, massive awareness and sensitization by the agency in charge, we were able to complete switchover ahead of the June 17, 2015 deadline.” She disclosed that in the process, the government of Tanzania provided tax reliefs, among other incentives, for the importation of Set- Top- Boxes (STB), stressing that about one million were sold recently and that the country currently enjoys about 51digital channels.

Like Mukangara, the Director-General of Communications Authority of Kenya, Francis Wangusi, said after signing the Geneva agreement of 2006, his country established a task force which saw it developed an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policy that gave meaning to the process of migration. Wangusi said by August 2015, Kenya should have attained 70 per cent migration, stressing that only areas without television would be left out.

According to him, the benefits his country enjoys now because of the migration includes release of digital dividend spectrum for roll-out of other non-broadcast services, such as mobile broadband in the 694MHz to 800MHz; improved environmental conservation, because operators now share infrastructure; quality digital picture with a target to have 40 per cent local content channels by 2017; creation of business opportunities and employment (content development; STBs manufacturing) and opportunity for Kenyans to have variety of channels. Wangusi said the process was, however, not smooth because they had to contend with some challenges, including litigation, cost of STBs and the slow roll-out of digital signals. “But we can say we have overcome that now, by August we should have 70 per cent of Kenya covered digitally.”

In an interview with The Guardian, the President of Startimes, Xinxing Pang, said countries that failed to meet the June 17 date would experience signal interference from border nations.

Pang, who said China has achieved migration, described digitalization as an irresistible trend, stressing that the process is about clear image on television and more convenient services that appeal to customer. According to him, China will always be ready to assist countries that are ready.

“China started in 2003 and began a real development around it in 2008 with about 300 million digital television subscriptions. We believe the process will get to everywhere, including the rural areas. China has achieved that. This is an information age and no country should be left behind in the train of development. We need to digitalize because of the future. Africa is lagging behind, so government should reduce the import of analogue television. We have discovered that more African countries are seriously in need of digital signal. There is also need for African government to develop their infrastructure. It is critical for any country’s development,” Pang stated.

According to him, government of each country should lead the digitization process, while operators will follow. He stressed that the vision of StarTimes was to help countries attain the level they never thought of in the information age, “and we have started that in several African countries.”

Nigeria’s failure to meet the deadline, like some other countries including South Africa, would result into disruptive television signals from next week. Part of Nigeria that could be most affected by signal disruptions include those close to the border with Niger Republic, Benin and Cameroon, should they meet the deadline.

The Guardian had exclusively reported that 78 per cent of Nigeria’s television household population of 20 million homes may miss out of the June 17 analogue-to-digital switchover deadline due to shoddy preparations, lack of funds, poor coordination and inconsistency in actions, among others. Besides, should the transition process eventually flop, which is now very obvious, Nigeria, just like a few other countries, may miss its own share of the $82 billion ‘digital dividend’ by 2025 as forecast by the Global System for Mobile Telecommunication Association (GSMA).

Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Emeka Mba, had disclosed that the country would need about N60 billion for the project to scale through, with a projection that the immediate past administration led by Goodluck Jonathan would provide substantial part of the funds, while the remaining would be independently sourced by the commission. Though the budget had been fixed about five years ago, the funds never came even as at the time the last administration left office on May 29.

Responding to The Guardian enquiries on the level of Nigeria’s preparedness to switchover earlier in March, Mba, emphasized that the country was already going digital and that the transition was on-going at that moment. According to him, “we have currently a digital television penetration of around 22 per cent of the total Nigerian TV household.  The major outstanding task is ensuring that the remaining 78 per cent of our TV household population of about 20 million homes will have set top boxes for Free to Air television reception before June 17 analogue switch off deadline. But with just a week interval before the deadline, that appears to be a task for another day, as the country looks to December 2017.
On the challenge of signal interference, a source, who is a member of the DigiTeam, a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) set up by the NBC to drive the transition process, had earlier disclosed that the government was planning to digitize all television-broadcasting stations in Nigerian border states that transmit signals to border countries.

The states, according to him, include Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Lagos, Bayelsa, Kwara, Kebbi and Sokoto. He stressed that these states will be digitized before the deadline to ensure that their transmitting signals do not cause inter-border interference of signals.

The Head of the DigiTeam, Edward Amana, had told The Guardian that Nigeria cannot claim any protection from the digital television transmission from the neighbouring countries for the analogue broadcasting in Nigeria.  “This apart, the digital dividend resulting from the switching off of all analogue transmitters cannot be effectively utilized in Nigeria. The switch-off of analogue transmitters should release a total of 168 MHz of premium spectrum that can be deployed for mobile broadband,” Amana stated.

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