Focus  

Digital migration… rejigging the process for better delivery

Kawu… at the briefing on June 16, 2017 in Lagos

The inability of Nigeria to transit nationally from analogue to digital migration on June 17, 2017 has brought up a new strategy that could help fast track the entire process, albeit regionally.

Saturday, June 17, 2017’s miss was the third time in seven years the country would miss the digital migration target popularly called Digital Switch-Over (DSO). But it should be clarified that only the 2015 deadline was International Telecommunications Union (ITU) certified; the 2012 was an internal arrangement by the drivers of the process in Nigeria to test run the transition; while the 2017 date appeared like a regional plan among the countries in the West African sub-region.

Apart from possible signal interference from border countries, which might have migrated, moving from analogue to digital terrestrial television frees up scarce spectrum for other uses, especially mobile. This benefit is known as digital dividend.

The deadline set for the UHF band by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Regional Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva in 2006 (RRC-06) for the migration from analogue terrestrial television to digital terrestrial television applies to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, as well as to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Having missed the 2015 deadline, there were optimism that June 2017 would remain a critical year for Nigeria, and Africa in general, 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.

NBC’s strategies
On the eve of last June 17, 2017, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the agency digital migration process in Nigeria had interface with the public in Lagos explaining the slowness of activities around the switch-over.

The Director-General of NBC, Is’haq Modibbo Kawu noted that the DSO process remains a huge financial, technical and logistical challenge, stressing that switching on a huge country like Nigeria, requires tremendous financial commitment.

He explained that upon his assumption of office in May last year, he discovered that the process at the beginning was dogged by a host of controversies.

“First, the Second National Signal Distributor, Pinnacle Communications Limited had been in dispute with the NBC. They were in court, because of a host of grievances arising from the way that the contract with them had been handled by the NBC. Pinnacle Communications Limited had been the single biggest contributor to the DSO process, so it became imperative that we did everything to get them out of court, to return them to the DSO process. After several meetings, we reached an agreement, and Pinnacle Communications accepted to drop their litigation against the NBC. They returned to the process; were appointed as signal distributors for the Abuja DSO,” he stated.

According to him, Set-Top-Box (STB) manufacturers had committed resources to the importation of 850, 000 STBs from China, but because the EFCC had seized funds from the NBC, under the past regime at the commission, it could not meet the commitment, which totaled the sum of $26 million.

He revealed that in the midst of all these challenges, NBC was resolute to carry out the DSO in Abuja. Kawu said the commission successfully carried that out, “offering in the process, 30 local, regional and national channels to viewers in Abuja. That was an upgrade to the 15 channels we offered in Jos, Plateau state, when the NBC launched the pilot phase of the DSO, in April 2016. So in 2016 alone, we achieved much more than had been done in the lead to the deadlines of 2012 and 2015!”

The NBC DG further said the commission appointed The Outsource Company (TOC), as the call center managers for the switchover, starting from Abuja. The firm, according to him, commenced with appointing 30 call agents, which was lated increased to 90, in order to meet the demands of viewers who either want to activate their boxes or make complaints or inquiries.

Available statistics
Sharing some statistics, Kawu said so far, a total of 745, 480 STBs have been imported into the country; 566, 478 have been delivered, while 485, 409 have been sold and 332, 095 were activated in Jos and Abuja. He said the call center has been very busy, stressing that as June 11, TOC has received 796, 026 calls from customers, while they received 21, 369 complaints about one or the other problem.

“The DSO process is also a learning experience for all of us driving it, and we have continued to enrich our experiences in a manner that can only redound to the benefit of the process as we move forwards,” he added.

Going forward  
Kawu, who was silent about how much and time it will require Nigeria to fully transit from analogue to digital transmission, explained that the commission hoped to have switched over by December 2017 in 12 states, “however, we are strating the launch in one state from each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Consequently, the following states were chosen for the next phase of the project: Kaduna; Gombe; Kwara; Osun; Delta and Enugu. Kwara should be by end of June, Kaduna by July and others gradually. By the time we are done successfully in those states, another six will be identified. We are hoping that by the end of the year, we should have completed 12 states.”

The NBC DG, who disclosed that the June 17, 2017 is a benchmark date for the DSO in Nigeria, said the mission remains constant, saying that to switch off analogue completely, Nigeria must achieve up to 95 per cent access to Free Digital Television content across country.

He however informed that there won’t be any interference from neighbouring countries, “because none of them was able to switchover. Not even one can match our own level of preparedness. Nigeria’s DSO process has today become the most talked about in Africa; it was designed by Nigerians; and is being implemented by Nigerians. This is not the case in quite a number of settings in Africa; and the consequence is that we are constantly receiving inquiries and visits from other African countries, to understudy the work we have done.”

According to him, in respect of a specific switchover date, the countries of the ECOWAS sub-region would re-assess the issue, given that all member countries have not met the June switchover deadline.

ITU’s stance on migration   
While statistics and details of those that transited in 2017 are still under compilation, it is interesting to note that two years ago, only 48 nations out of the 119 member countries of the ITU successfully transited from analogue to digital migration.

According to ITU, a United Nations arm in charge of global telecommunications regulation, 58 countries, including Nigeria have the project as ‘on going’, while 20 countries were designated as not ready. A total of 48 countries, however, met the deadline. No information was provided on the status of the remaining member nations.

ITU, in a document titled: ‘Status of the transition to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting’, said the transition heralded the development of ‘all-digital’ terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television for 119 countries belonging to ITU Region-1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia) and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the Europe, America, Middle East and Central Asia, the ITU listed United States of America; Portugal; Poland; Japan; Germany; Malta; Belgium; Greece; Italy; United Kingdom; France; Netherlands; Sweden; Israel; Canada; Latvia; Iceland among other countries that met the deadline. The report said the countries achieved this feat between 2007 and 2012.

In Africa, countries including Mozambique; Tanzania; Rwanda; Mauritius, Kenya and Malawi have migrated successfully. They achieved this, according to the report between 2010 and 2015.

Countries that have been designated as on-going, which include Nigeria, are India; Zambia; Zimbabwe, South Africa; Togo; Mexico; Korea Republic; Kenya; Cameroon among others.

According to the body, the deadline for switching off analogue television broadcasting in the UHF band was set by ITU Member States at the Regional Radio communication Conference in 2006, known as the GE06 Regional Agreement.

It disclosed that several countries that are party to the GE06 Agreement, as well as many which are not, have already made the transition.

ITU explained that the new digital GE06 Plan provides not only new possibilities for structured development of digital terrestrial broadcasting but also sufficient flexibilities for adaptation to the changing telecommunication environment.

According to ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, the process, which began in June 2006, has re-envisioned the way the world watches and interacts with TV and opened the way for new innovations and developments in the broadcast industry.”

Zhao explained that digital TV broadcasting offers many advantages over analogue systems for end-users, operators and regulators.

He pointed out that 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 (HDTV) and ultra-high definition (UHDTV).

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