The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) digital migration deadline is June 2015. It is expected that by then, all countries will have moved from analogue broadcasting to digital terrestrial television (DTT) by June 2015. After the expiry of this deadline, international support for analog broadcasts will no longer be available. Many countries around the world have made the switch from analog to digital but Africa is still lagging behind.
Understanding Digital Television
Digital TV is the transmission of digitally processed audio and video as opposed to the use of analog signals. The main difference is the use of multiplex transmitters which allow reception of multiple channels on a single frequency range. Digital TV requires less bandwidth and transmits a much higher quality of video and sound.
Challenges towards Implementation
A majority of countries in Africa are facing various implementation challenges and are unlikely to meet the ITU deadline. Some of the main challenges include:
Lack of Public Awareness
Whilst some countries have carried out effective public awareness campaigns, there are regions of Africa such as Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and South Sudan where public education has been lackluster at best. Many people will be caught flat footed when the switchover is implemented.
Cost of Set Top Boxes
Only television sets that have inbuilt DVB-T2 tuners can receive a digital signal. Old models can only receive the signal via a set-top box. A set-top box (STB) or set top unit (STU) essentially converts the incoming digital signal into analog form that the television is able to display on screen.
In many African countries, the relatively high cost of set top boxes has hindered their uptake. Even after many governments zero rated the gadgets, the boxes are still retailing at an average of $35 in East Africa. This cost does not include the cost of the UHF aerial and cabling. In some countries, the cost is as high as $60. For the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa, this amounts to a week's wages.
There have also been an onslaught of legal challenges that have stood in the way of digital migration in many African countries. Most of these include disagreements with signal distributors and allegations of corruption. For example, in May 2013, Zambian authorities and Chinese firm Star Software Technology Company had a major disagreement touching on the tender for the digital migration project which led to the cancellation of the $220 million contract. In Tanzania, the government switched off the analog signal on 31st December 2012. This action was immediately challenged by the Tanzania Media Owner's Association who complained that they were losing massive amounts of revenue during the blackout. In Kenya, there is a protracted legal battle pitting the industry regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya, against the Media Owner's Association (MOA) and Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek). The MOA has taken issue with foreign ownership of signal distributors. One of the licensed signal distributors is a Chinese firm. Cofek on the other hand has been arguing that the set-top boxes are too expensive and hence beyond the reach of most Kenyans.
There is a need for African countries to move with haste and implement migration. After the ITU deadline expires, there will no longer be international protection for the analog spectrum. This could lead to signal interference if other parties start using the spectrum.