Digital Migration; who benefits?

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KAMPALA – This week opened on a rather serious but comical note. The global deadline for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting was finally here, then Uganda’s ex-Premier announced his presidential ambitions, finally.

So what was comical about this, one may ask?

Well, Amama Mbabazi made a digital announcement (on Youtube) that he would contest for the country’s presidency come 2016. (Hehe, I know that is still not comical, depending on who is reading anyway. Read on)

Coincidentally, hours later, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) moved to enforce what had been expected; switch off analogue transmitters to facilitate the full digital migration in Kampala and areas within a radius of 60kms from the city.

Albert Mucunguzi, the supremo here at PC Tech Magazine posted on his social media page a rather strange conversation, that he either overheard or actually had with a motorcycle taxi operator;

Boda guy: Olaba museveni bwali omugezi? (Do you see how canny Museveni is?)
Me: Atte atya? (How is that?)
Boda guy: Mbabazi yalangilidde okwesimba ku bwa pulezidenti, Museveni najako TV zona (Mbabazi announced his presidential ambitions, and Museveni retaliated by switching off TVs)

While on a lunch break somewhere in Kampala, I couldn’t help but notice that there were several booths set up to sell decoders. The rate at which these set top boxes were selling was alarming!

A colleague I was with just sneered and said, “Shyaa, this is Uganda. Even this will come to pass. UCC will bring back those channels. I will not waste time buying a decoder.”

Shocked, I tried in vain to explain to this seemingly well-learned gentleman that digital migration was agreed upon by all the signatories to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The June 17 deadline for switching off analogue television broadcasting in the UHF band was set by ITU Member States at the Regional Radiocommunication Conference in 2006, known as the GE06 Regional Agreement.

Tina Wamala, the Public Relations Manager at Multichoice Uganda told PC Tech Magazine that there was an increase in the demand and need for set top boxes which was accelerated by the analogue signal switch off and Multichoice’s significant reduction in decoder prices – DStv at promotional offer of UGX 99,999 and GOtv as UGX 89,000.

“Now that the deadline has expired there is an upsurge of customers coming to purchase our equipment or to renew their subscription since we have officially migrated in Kampala and the surrounding areas. The benefits of digital television is also a major contributor to influencing market reaction on migration. Going digital means that television viewers can now have more choice as additional channels will become available to them in improved digital quality sound and picture,” she explained.

It should be noted that although satellite broadcasting systems exist all over the world, the terrestrial broadcasting networks continue to be the primary delivery systems for television and radio broadcasting services.

The analogue broadcasting systems require significant radio frequency spectrum which  is a  finite resource. Because of this, there was need to address this issue. Digital broadcasting systems, besides other attributes, are meant to address the issue of radio spectrum as a scarce resource.

Uganda’s Digital Migration policy stated that Uganda would use the DVB-T2 (the latest DTV technology) which technically translates into a total of 28 transmission station sites, hosting 62 digital transmitters to effectively cover the whole country with a signal foot print making it an economical and infrastructural reality to set up digital television broadcasting anywhere in the country.

However, despite UCC and service providers holding regular dialogues to explain what the migration to digital terrestrial television broadcasting means, the message has not really sunk in. A number of Ugandans are not aware what this switch is all about.

Moreover, UCC has announced that there shall be a phased switch off of the remaining analogue signal in areas outside the greater Kampala. In a statement, the regulator hopes to have completed the national migration by August 31, 2015.

For starters, the June 17, 2015 deadline was set close to a decade ago but just like everyone else, African countries dragged their feet. Several reasons were thrown about; Misplaced regulations, lack of content and low level of consumer awareness were cited as key reasons behind the slow progress.

Failure to meet the deadline means that a country will have to bear responsibility for any harmful interference in its signals.

Now that the deadline has passed, ITU has not set a new date but rather encouraged those countries that had not completed the process to do so ‘as soon as possible.’

Information from the ITU shows that in Africa, only Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania have completed the migration process.

Apart from increasing the number of programmes, digital systems can provide new innovative services such as interactive TV, electronic programme guides and mobile TV, as well as transmit image and sound in high definition and ultra-high definition.  Digital TV also requires less energy to ensure the same coverage while decreasing the overall cost of transmission.

The key success factor for digital terrestrial television is likely to be the richness of the content that the platform will offer, especially local content. Because moving from analogue to digital terrestrial television frees up scarce spectrum for other uses, especially mobile in the case of launching 4G LTE.

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