Amana - Stage Now Set for Digital Broadcasting [interview]
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Edward Amana, is the chairman, DigiTeam - the Presidential Committee on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. In this interview with Dele Ogbodo, he speaks on the planned commencement of digital broadcasting in the country in the first quarter of 2014 before the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) deadline of June 2015
About DigiTeam The DigiTeam is a Presidential Committee set up on December 20, 2012, to fast track the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting in the country which is in compliance with ITU's recommendation. It has about 15 terms of reference: Chiefly amongst which are: To determine the modalities for splitting of broadcasting services into broadcast contents provision and broadcasting signal distributors, to provide a regulatory framework to guide the licensing of DTT services, and to develop the specification of the Set-Top- Box (STB) taking into consideration the need or otherwise for establishing a minimum specification for an STB.
The team was to be funded by the presidency but at the moment our activities is being funded from other sources. At the time we were set up, there was no budgetary input from either the ministry or the regulatory bodies responsible for broadcasting for the transition. So, we have to look for some other ways to get some money to be able to carry on our activities. Right now, we are getting a lot of support from the National Broadcasting Commission. So far, the work is progressing fine.
There are so many things to be done and to facilitate the job, the team has been split into sub committees like the technical subcommittee that should do the technical work which includes the determination of the applicable standards for the various equipment to be used by the signal distributors and the STB manufacturers and also determine the spectrum that will be left available for the transition. We also have the publicity committee that has mapped out the public awareness campaign which is very necessary for the success of the transition. And then, there is the legal regulatory subcommittee. Because the current broadcast regulations and laws need to be amended for some of the job of the transition to be accomplished.
For example federal government has approved three signal distributors, one of which should evolve from the current Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), now for that to happen, the current Act of the NTA has to be amended and so the legal subcommittee is working on it and as we are talking they are almost concluding the draft law for broadcasting, because so many things are going to change in the broadcast arena during and after the transition and of course we have the finance subcommittee that has to map out and look at all the activities and give some ideas of where money will come from to be able to do what has to be done.
Problem of transition Of course, one of the key problems of transition from analogue to digital broadcasting is the problem of content, because going digital, you will need to create so many channels for new entrants into the broadcast arena even the new entrants now have avenues for other programmes. For example, on StarTimes, NTA now has NTA Yoruba, Hausa Igbo etc and some other programmes like NTA Education. This is the result of the digital platform set up by their joint venture StarTimes, that is the kind of opportunity that avails from going from analogue to digital. So, there is capacity even for existing stations to have more channels catering for specific needs of the society. So, Africa Independent Television (AIT) may now decide to have full 24-hour channels like AIT Sports etc. So, ditto other broadcasters and of course the way it is going to be structured, new entrants into the television industry will find an easier and cheaper way to get on to the broadcast arena because in the new regime, a licenced broadcaster will no longer buy transmitter to set up and all that. One of the three carriers will be able to carry his or her signals on the platforms on subscription basis. Of course, you have a choice to choose where you want to be as that is one of the gains of going digital. So, a content subcommittee that will educate the stakeholders as to the opportunities available to them after the transition. So, there is opportunities now for innovative individuals to get together and have some good creative programming.
Analogue and digital broadcasting Take for example Kwara State has Kwara State Television. They use 8 megahertz of spectrum to transmit their one channel of programming to the people of Kwara State. Now when we go digital, that one channel that the State TV station is using can sustain up to 20 channels of television, depending on whether you want to deliver standard definition of television or high standard television. If you are delivering high standard television, that 8 megahertz is capable of accommodating 20 channels of programming. After the transition for example, Kwara State television does not need to own a transmitter, but if they so want to have Kwara State Government Legislative channel, Kwara TV Sports channel, they can accommodate all of these ones on the platform of a carrier that is covering their carrier.
Advantages of digital broadcasting To the man on the street, he has a variety of programmes and they will come in better quality and sound using broadband spectrum. This is mainly a telecommunications operator's affair. There are frequencies allocated for GSM operations. These ones are slightly narrow band for GSM operations. Now, there are smart phones coming into the market. In the early days of mobile phones, we were mainly concerned with making and receiving calls and later on the innovation of texting and now we have gone beyond that with taking of pictures and even now we receive television signals on the phone. To do that effectively, you need a wider spectrum and that is where broadband comes in. Broadband can be achieved either by wireless or fibre optic cable. The best platform for broadband is fibre, but because we don't have the fibre network infrastructure everywhere in Nigeria and in areas where we have fibre, occasionally because of the construction of road expansion, these fibers get cut. Sometimes they are deliberately vandalized.
So, ideally, broadband should have been on fibre because they have unlimited bandwidth on the fibre setup. You can also do broadband on wireless especially in the lower gigahertz bandwidth down to the upper UHF being used by television. In fact, one of the driving forces because the telecoms operators require additional bandwidth to be able to deliver the new services that people are willing to pay for like being able to receive TV programmes on your mobile phones and all that, download with faster access to the Internet and wireless broadband, will make penetration of those digital dividends in the rural areas faster because we don't have the structure that covers rural areas.
So, one of the benefits of digital transition is that by the time we switchover from analogue to digital, part of the upper UHF will now be available for the telecoms people to use for mobile broadband, which will now make life in the rural areas a lot more easier for those of you who can afford it. By the time the UHF bands vacated by television are made available, these things will now spread better to the rural areas.
Apart from that, these days, a lot of the doctors who cover the rural areas at the moment do not have access to ready information or assistance. If you have broadband penetration in the rural areas, a doctor there can easily, via the internet, make contact across to his colleagues anywhere in the world to seek advice or even place orders for equipment and the drugs that he may require for emergency assistance from other doctors in their network.
Last ECOWAS preparatory meeting Well, there were two fallouts. Usually the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is more or less the coordinating body for how the spectrum is used around the world. Virtually all administration or governance of the world are members and they normally coordinate all the changes and how the spectrum should be used. The idea of transmission from analogue to digital broadcasting came to the fore at the conference in 2004 where the criteria for going digital was stated, then using that criteria at the World Radio Congress (WRC), 2006, we used that criteria now to draw up a digital plan for broadcasting around region 1 of the ITU, where the digital plan for VHF 174-230 megahertz UHF channels was planned for the whole of Africa and the whole of Europe and Asia belong to. It was at that particular meeting that the agreement of switching off that transition was signed that June.
Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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