Amidst challenges, Startimes commits to digital switch over

By Emmanuel Okwuke  /  Senior  IT. Correspondent 

As the broadcast world braces up for the digital switch over from analogue to digital television broadcasting by June 15, 2015, according to a 2006 agreement brokered by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency that allocates radio spectrum and satellite orbit, many stakeholders in Nigerian broadcast industry are expressing doubts if the country can meet the deadline.

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) in Africa and most parts of the Middle East. The use of these bands is governed by international agreements under the ITU.


Frequently asked questions

Many people are questioning Nigeria’s readiness to meet the 2015 deadline for digital migration. Some frequently asked questions among stakeholders are: How well has the industry braced up to meet the technical challenges involved in the transition? How prepared is the government and operators in the industry? Where will the fund to successfully execute the digital transition come from? These questions and others agitating the minds of stakeholders have never been fully answered by relevant authorities.

Inadequate enlightenment

Another major huddle on the way to a successful digital migration in Nigeria is that millions of Nigerians are yet to understand what digital migration is all about. Many stakeholders in the industry believe that by now, the Nigerian populace ought to have been fully sensitised that come June next year, their current analogue television sets would no longer be useful except they buy digital set up boxes which will enable them access digital signals.

Hence various stakeholders have called for increased enlightenment. They posited that if those in the cities know little or nothing about digital migration, what will be the fate of the millions of unenlightened individuals in rural areas.


Digital dividends

According to experts, Nigeria could earn as much as N380 billion from the sale of frequencies 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 the unemployed, more channels of diverse programming thereby giving viewers more choice, possibly of multi-lingual delivery of programmes.

The gains of compliance 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 include;  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.  Digital broadcasting offers superior viewing experience with a sharper, brighter picture, reduced interferences, better audio signal, and improved sound quality.


Paucity of funds

Inadequate funding has been described as one of the major impediments to the realisation of the June, 15, 2015 deadline for digital migration.

The Managing Director, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Television (TV) Enterprises, Maxwell Loko stated this recently in Lagos, at an interactive session with the media.

According to him, because the digital switchover is sacrosanct, the Federal Government must come to the aid of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to achieve this national objective.

He maintained that though the NBC is trying in its own little ways to see that this goal is achieved, the government must lend a helping hand to make this a reality.

Mr. Loko advised the government to take advantage of the money that will be realised from the digital switch over to fund it. “Though the government has priorities in the area of security and others, but we are saying that they can take advantage of the money to be realized from the sale of spectrum to telecommunications companies to fund it”.

The Startimes helmsman admonished the Federal Government to commit the telecoms operators who will benefit from the proposed sale of spectrum to pay part of the money for the spectrum up front and use it to fund the digital migration. “The balance which will be realised later can of course go into the national treasury”.

Director General , NBC, Mr. Emeka Mba  collaborated these views when at a recent forum, he  told his audience that a lot of money, was needed to execute the digital switch over. He maintained that switching to the digital platform of broadcasting requires several billions of Naira.

According to him, despite the obvious consequences of failure, the country may not meet the migration deadline. “Yes, there are implications like signal interference, missing out on new business opportunities that may spring up due to digitisation and the country not being able to compete strongly in the global digital arena”.

Mr. Mba continued: “Even if everything were to be in place, switch off will not happen until we are sure there is near equal penetration of digital broadcasting to the current analogue system. At least 80 percent of homes will get the digital set boxes before we switch off permanently. If we do not get this till the due date, we may run a simulcast system where the digital and analogue systems operate simultaneously.”

He hinted that the Commission was making arrangements to raise funds to push the project, hoping things would work out at the end of the day.


Leveraging  Startimes infrastructure

StarTimes has advised the Federal Government to leverage on the infrastructure that has been put in place by the joint venture partnership between NTA and Startimes to achieve digital migration.

Mr. Loko noted that the company which is registered as NTA-Star TV Network Limited is registered both as a pay TV operator and a Signal Distributor. Hence they are well positioned to make the digital switchover a reality.

Also, he opined that his company now has coverage in 33 cities and is targeting 50 cities by December, 2014.  Some of the cities include: Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Ibadan and Port-Harcourt, Aba, Benin, Enugu, Ilorin, Jos, Kaduna, Makurdi, Onitsha, Sokoto, Uyo and Yola, Abeokuta, Akure, Oshogbo, Lokoja, Zaria, Kastina, Gusau, Minna, Lafia, Owerri, Awka, Warri, Calabar, Suleja, Binin-Kebbi and Ado EKiti among others.

Presently the company boasts of 80 channels and is targeting 100 channels by December 2014. This is in addition to having sales and services departments across the nation, 300 dealers, call centres and service agents.


 Reliable partnership

According to Public Relations Manager, NTA-Star TV Network, Irete Anetor, the NBC has obliged his company to carry out the obligations of states and local television stations in Nigeria, especially in Jos, the pilot city for digital migration.

“As the country progresses in its process of digital migration, StarTimes, as a platform, is saddled with the responsibility of helping Nigeria migrate successfully from analogue to digital television and is the only licensed carrier of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), services in the country.

“In view of our role in the process, the free to access channels makes it possible for our customers in Jos to enjoy some of their favourite analogue channels on our digital platform even as the city has switched over to digital broadcasting,” he said.

Source : Independent

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