SADC Marches Towards Digital Television Switchover
Swakopmund ‑ The worldwide digital television migration by 2015 represents a major landmark towards establishing a more equitable, just and people-centred information society.
The digital switchover will leapfrog existing technologies (analogue) to connect the unconnected in underserved and remote communities and close the digital divide.
Digital broadcasting transition is a global process, which started in 2006 following an agreement by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member states to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting signals.
ITU member states in 2006 agreed to the switchover deadline of June 17, 2015.
Several regions of the world are in different stages of adaptation and implementing different broadcasting standards.
While many African countries are grappling to catch up with the rest of the world, the Southern African region is one of the front-runners on the continent in the race to make the transition to digital broadcasting.
SADC started the digital migration process in June 2009 and set December 31, 2013, as the deadline for the switchover to give the region time to address any challenges that may result from the migration prior to the ITU 2015 deadline.
Representatives from SADC member states met in Namibia’s coastal resort town, Swakopmund, for the Fifth SADC Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Forum from April 15.
The three-day forum took stock of how individual member countries are fairing in digital migration, and whether the region is on course to meet the December 2013 deadline.
The meeting also reviewed the implementation of the region’s roadmap on the member states and addressed some of the challenges individual countries are facing in meeting the deadline.
In his opening address at the forum, Joel Kaapanda, the Namibian Minister of Information and Communication Technology, emphasised the importance of meeting the ITU’s analogue switch-off deadline.
Should SADC fail to meet the global deadline, Kaapanda said, “We are at risk of paying the painful penalty of being isolated from the world’s broadcasting community.
“I am pleased to note that our sub-region is one of the regional economic communities that have made notable progress on the subject of analogue to digital broadcasting migration.”
SADC was the first regional grouping in Africa to set up a regional roadmap to oversee migration from analogue to the digital television broadcasting.
The region has set up a Regional Implementation Steering Committee and Project Management Office to monitor the implementation of DTT migration and avail necessary assistance to member states.
Kaapanda stressed that the region needs to utilise such institutional frameworks “so that SADC makes a smooth and seamless DTT transition and benefit from the digital dividend”.
Marten Langa ‑ who represented Mozambique as the SADC Chair ‑ said, “Despite tremendous progress we [have] made so far, funding remains the biggest challenge in order for us to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting.”
In an interview with The Southern Times Langa said, “For the process to be completed, you need money for deployment of transmitters, provision and expansion of signals. All those require a large amount of money.”
Regarding issues of funding, Langa said his country, Mozambique, needs at least US$90 million to successfully switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Langa explained that in order to raise the much-needed funds, the Mozambique government has sanctioned the auctioning of five spectrum frequencies in the 790MHz-862MHz band ‑ in the range of 790MHz to 862MHz.
The process started in March, and “we are going to do evaluation of the process, whether it has any desired outcomes. The spectrum auction is expected to be held in June 2013, with base price for biding set at US$30 million”, he said.
Lack of finance has also delayed the DTT migration process in Zimbabwe.
Obed Muganyura, who represented the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Authority (ZBC) at the SADC forum, said his country faces serious financial challenges.
Muganyura emphasised that although the authority has received funding from the state, but it is not sufficient to enable the implementation of the whole process.
However, ZBC has teamed up with a strategic partner to roll-out the DTT platform, including conducting trials and setting up regulatory frameworks, he said.
“Efforts are [being] made despite economic circumstances we are facing in Zimbabwe; otherwise we are facing serious challenges in meeting the SADC deadline,” Muganyura said.
Meanwhile, Minister Kaapanda said Namibia has developed an approach for transition to digital broadcasting and established a transition timeframe and programme for analogue.
The country adopted the DVB-T2 technical standard two years ago and has since made significant strides in upgrading broadcasting infrastructure that culminated in the launch of national DTT testing phase on December 5, 2012.
Analysts believe that Africa’s digital transition in broadcasting has the potential to improve both the quantity and quality of what is available on TV and increase the number of people who will be able to watch it.
Due to better compression, broadcasters will be able to offer several channels of programming in a spectrum that was previously only able to transmit a single analogue channel, according to the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
The ACP says viewers are likely to be offered a wider range of channels ‑ subject only to the broadcasters’ finding a business model to make the channels financially viable.
The association is an international network of civil society organisations working for peace and human rights, development and protection of the environment, through the strategic use of information and communication technologies.