Nigeria: Digital Migration – Conference Appraises Africa’s Readiness

29 Sept 2013,

The third edition of Digital Dialogue took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last week where experts appraised the readiness of stakeholders in Africa not to be caught napping at the expiration of the July 2015 deadline for digital migration.

For the global broadcasting world, there is a frenzy of activities at present as various governments and stakeholders continue to educate, inform and create awareness about the digital migration, movement from analogue to digital television broadcasting.

This is because all countries with the exception of a couple of territories are scheduled to complete the migration from analogue to digital television broadcasting by June 17, 2015, according to a 2006 agreement brokered by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency that allocates radio spectrum and satellite orbits.

Digital broadcasting is based on the use of digital transmission technologies such as DVB-T and video and audio compression technologies such as MPEG 2/4.

Experts explain that digital services are carried on a multiplex, which can carry many television and radio services in the same frequency channel as one analogue television service. Up till now, television broadcast services are transmitted on the VHF (Band III) and UHF band (Bands IV and V) throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The use of these bands is governed by international agreements under the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Interestingly, the pains of migration (including additional costs to government, operators and consumers) are being discussed side by side with digital dividends at various fora in the build-up to the 2015 deadline.

One of such awareness campaigns was the Digital Dialogue Conference sponsored by Multichoice and held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last week, where speakers drawn from Africa, United States of America and Europe examined the state of preparedness of the various stakeholders, especially Africa less than two years to the June 17, 2015 date.

At the event, which had in attendance editors of select media organisations across Africa, issues discussed included steps in transition to digital network roll out; inter-regional co-ordination of and harmonisation of mobile spectrum; standardisation; enforcement of regulation and funding of the migration process.

Some of the panelists included a director in the Economic Consulting group of Deloittte in London, Ana Aguilar; an ICT sector advisor to the President of Kenya, Daniel Obam, Secretary to the Digital Broad Migration Committee in Ghana Edmund Fianko and an independent consultant Gregory Bebserg among others.

Digital Dividends According to experts, Nigeria could earn as much as $2 billion (about N380 billion) when it finally migrates from analogue to digital broadcasting. Apart from this, the digital dividend is also said to be capable of generating thousands of jobs for youths and more channels of diverse programming, giving the viewers more choice, possibly of multi-lingual delivery of programmes and better quality pictures and sound.

Slow Pace of Work However, the slow pace of preparations, especially in Nigeria and other African countries have triggered off a debate about the seriousness of stakeholders, especially government, to make all the necessary commitments capable of making their respective countries to meet the deadline. Many countries have chosen earlier target deadlines to allow more time before the global switchover. As of October 2012, the only African nation that had completed the analogue to digital television (DTV) migration was Mauritius. The country initiated its migration process in 2005 with a “soft launch” of its first digital services offering six free -to -air channels.

The question that resonated among the Nigerian delegates at the conference was the reality of the low level of preparation by the federal government agencies charged with the responsibility of coordinating the migration i.e. the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and the Ministry of Communications. Another question that came up was whether spectrums could be pre-sold in order to raise money by the federal government. Unfortunately, no one could say with conviction that the journey so far has been smooth because a number of questions on the digital migration are yet to be answered.

However, the panel of experts who spoke at the conference agreed that for Nigeria and other African countries not to be left behind, difficult decisions have to be made by government and regulators. On the issue of funding the migration by the Nigerian government, the panel believed success could only be realised when the federal government sees the process as an investment instead of focusing on what would accrue from the sale of spectrums by the relevant agencies.

One of the panelists, the Managing Director, Multichoice Nigeria, Mr. John Ugbeh, stressed the need for the relevant stakeholders to put good plans in place. On the excitement raised over the anticipated proceeds of the sale of spectrums, Ugbeh cautioned that dividend of digital migration should not be seen as a means of raising funds.

According to him, one of the questions to be asked include the one that borders on the plans in place to ensure Nigeria is not left behind in the quest to achieve a seamless migration in 2015, saying answers to this question will make it possible to measure the nation’s state of readiness. Speaking in the same vein, a UK-based independent consultant, Gregory Bensberg, said the gains of digital migration would be easily accomplished when all stakeholders see migration as a necessity and not necessarily because ITU asked everyone to migrate. He said that in England for instance, the government was ahead of the people on what it was expected to do, adding that the government’s effort was driven by enormous benefits derivable from navigation. He said: “The thinking should be beyond the fact that the ITU asked us to do it.”

The Fate of Consumers In Nigeria, there are concerns that unless government moves faster, the consumers will lose out at the end of the day. Fears were raised that certain unscrupulous businessmen could take advantage of the poor level of sensitisation campaign to sell television sets that are not compliant with the new order to innocent people. What it means is by the expiration of the deadline in 2014, some of the television sets in use now may become obsolete. The panelists, therefore, stressed the need to get the buying of television to focus on T2 compliant so that consumers won’t have to face the challenge of having to change their sets before 2015 dates.

The DVB-T Standard The DVB-T standard is the most successful digital terrestrial television standards in the world. Since the publication of the DVB-T standard in 1995, however, research in transmission technology has continued, and new options for modulating and error-protecting broadcast steams have been developed. Simultaneously, the demand for broadcasting frequency spectrum has increased as has the pressure to release broadcast spectrum for non-broadcast applications, making it ever more necessary to maximise spectrum efficiency.

In response, the DVB Project has developed the second-generation digital terrestrial television (DVB-T2) standard. The specification, first published by the DVB Project in June 2008, has been standardised by European Telecommunication Standardisations Institute (ETSI) since September 2009. Implementation and product development using this new standard has already begun. The possibility to increase the capacity in a digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplex is one of the key benefits of the DVB-T2 standard. However, experts at the Dubai conference contended that the implementation of a new digital terrestrial television (DTT) standard would have a profound impact upon the broadcast industry.

According to them, the cost of developing, distributing, and implementing new equipment will need to be borne by manufacturers, network operators, and viewers. Business issues related to financing the launch of services the DVB-T2 standard need to be explored. They maintained that demand for services using DVB-T2 would likely vary depending on the demands of the market as would the approach for launching such services. Broadcasters will also need to consider possible business cases and how current revenue streams can be maintained and/or augmented. Industry watchers who had raised eyebrows over the current working arrangement between the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and StarTimes, a player in the industry, however, said there is need for government to do all that is possible so that the consumers will not be at the receiving end.

The Gains They listed gains of compliance to include more efficient use of spectrum because digital signals take up much less bandwidth than analogue signals.

For instance, 10 television channels can be carried using the same bandwidth that would normally carry only one channel using analogue. Other gains included more efficient infrastructure, which allows for a single broadcast infrastructure instead of independent parallel networks, reducing the cost for all broadcasters as well as reducing environmental impact.

The new arrangement also promises to bring about better quality TV. Digital broadcasting offers a superior viewing experience with a sharper, brighter picture, reduced “ghosting” and interference, better audio signal, and improved sound quality (similar to the difference between an old VHS video cassette and a DVD).