By Pang Xinxing
Africa could realize the target of providing affordable digital television to every household through the adoption of unified technology and business models. Digitization is a complex technologically intensive process that also requires huge capital investment. It should be seen as a social project because it will affect how people receive and share information.
The world-wide digitization process is being undertaken to free up spectrum for the growth of the information technology industry. The transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting is a process, requiring the involvement of legislators, regulators, broadcasting companies (content producers, broadcasters and network operators), manufacturers as well as viewers.
2017 is a critical year for Africa to meet the analogue switch-off deadline and by following a pan-African approach to technology, financing and content development – all citizens can be guaranteed of enjoying a digital life.
Apart from clearer images, increased channels for content and easier reception the availability of radio spectrum will allow expansion of the internet-based technology.
A completely digitized Africa is vital as digital broadcasting empowers citizens especially in the rural livelihoods with necessary information. Advances in technology means that more African citizens would be able to access information using internet-based technology.
Through digital broadcasting, farmers can get information about the market for their crops and also access extension services where access to experts is limited.
These observations were made by delegates from across Africa during this year’s Africa Digital TV Development seminar under the theme ‘Universalize Digital TV and Enjoy Smart Life.’ The delegates included over 400 participants from 43 countries who came to share knowledge around the digitization process.
All countries are required to make a complete switch from analogue transmission to digital following the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agreement.
A digital broadcasting plan, covering 116 countries (mainly in Africa and Europe), was agreed to for the frequency bands 174–230 MHz and 470–862 MHz at the ITU Regional Radio Communication Conference in Geneva in June 2006.
According to this plan (known as the GE06), the analogue switch-off date was June 17, 2015 (except for some countries in some frequency bands where the deadline is June 17, 2020).
The GE06 Agreement of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) established the Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting Frequency Plan in the radio frequency bands for the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Band and Very High Frequency (VHF) Band.
With the final deadline fast approaching, more African countries are seeking to achieve a complete digital switch but have faced challenges in terms of technology, infrastructure and financing.
Each country has its own unique situations but StarTimes has continued to prove itself as a reliable partner in the implementation of digital migration.
Irreversible trend of broadcasting
Transmission standards of broadcasting continue to evolve and by adopting a unified approach to adopting technology across Africa, the countries can achieve economies of scale and convenience of connectivity.
StarTimes has established an enormous network system which is able to provide service to tens of millions of subscribers. With a signal distribution platform, a Direct-to-Home satellite platform, and a digital terrestrial TV platform, StarTimes has made its signal available throughout the African continent, Europe and part of Asian continent.
Direct-broadcast satellite television, also known as “Direct to home” (DTH), is delivering television programming using signals relayed from space radio stations (e.g. digital video broadcast – DVB satellites).
In DBSTV systems, signals are relayed from a direct broadcast satellite on the wavelength and are completely digital. Some transmissions and channels are unencrypted and therefore free-to-air or free-to-view, while many other channels are transmitted with encryption (pay television), requiring a subscription.
Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is an implementation of digital technology. DTT provides more channels and better quality of picture and sound, using aerial broadcasts to a conventional antenna (or aerial) instead of a satellite dish or cable connection. DTT is transmitted on radio frequencies through the airwaves, which is similar to standard analogue television except for one primary difference, the use of multiplex transmitters to allow reception of multiple channels on a single frequency range.
Currently the transmission standard for DTT is DVB-T2 H.264 but is soon to be upgraded to H.265.
The delegates observed that for the purpose of standardization, coding should follow the existing system of DVB-S2. They noted that there was need to consider advances in technology as African countries went digital.
StarTimes as a technology company has continued to innovate and is also developing the next generation of products for digital entertainment and apps, to support a wide range of content formats.
African countries must begin to develop legislation and policies against the introduction of outdated technology on their markets.
Regulations around the use and importation of analogue or second-hand digital broadcast equipment should be discouraged as such items are electronic waste.
Africa is on a steady march forward in terms of digitization and should take full advantage of being late-comers to the field.
Late adoption of digital technology means that more African countries stand to benefit from cheaper but more efficient systems and will also allow for easier technology and content sharing.
Many parts of Africa still face challenges in terms of electricity supply and even access but in recent times, new approaches and technologies have been developed to ensure that all parts of the continent can be covered by a digital signal and at a minimal cost.
The benefits of digital migration automatically opens up opportunities for African governments to provide more internet-based services while providing a platform for more broadcasters and content providers to come on board.
The increase in content channels will see an increase in employment of people in the creative industry.
New broadcast stations no longer have to invest in transmission equipment, a development which means lower production costs.
Additional players to the information technology sector will also translate in an increase in revenue from taxes to governments.
Financing of the national digital migration process has been a hurdle that many countries are still yet to overcome but with the support of the Chinese government, several financial institutions have made long-term low-interest loans available.
StarTimes has successfully partnered with various governments in establishing public-private-partnership (PPP) in implementing digital migration.
Joint ventures also mean that governments can focus limited national budgets on other essential sectors such as education, health and development sectors – while ensuring that the digital broadcast sector commences as a viable business and social endeavor.