GOVERNMENT says it is ready to auction the long term evolution (LTE) spectrum to mobile operators for broadcasting to raise US$173 million needed to complete the broadcast digitalisation programme before the deadline of June 2015. The money would go towards migrating existing transmitters, buying new digital transmitters, migrating the studios at Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), migrating monitoring equipment for the regulator and putting in place new regulations for the licensing of the new digital broadcasting.
Responding to a question on how government, which is facing cash challenges, would raise money for the exercise when presenting oral evidence to the Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Parliamentary Portfolio Committee last week, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said it was not difficult to obtain the money. "We are able to get it right away if we (government) auction LTE spectrum to mobile operators for broadcasting," he said.
LTE is a faster network technology; it would simplify their infrastructure and reduce costs while improving the quality of offerings to mobile network subscribers. LTE is regarded as the "most advanced" network technology. It is an easily deployable network technology, offering high speeds and low latencies over long distances. The digital transition is raising questions around who would get access to the new channels created.
Broadcasting and telecommunications are in many African countries treated as separate, vertical markets. However, digital convergence means that telecoms operators will become involved in broadcasting and broadcasting companies are expected to be looking at how they might deliver internet and voice services. Moyo said the move to meet the June 2015 broadcast degitalisation deadline had already started, with 10 transmission sites now migrated to digital broadcasting.
Zimbabwe currently has 24 transmission sites. An additional 24 digital transmission sites are however required. Spectrum has since been allocated to Zimbabwean telecom companies that want to run LTE enabled broadband networks, the local regulator has confirmed. This move by the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) enables operators to roll-out networks that have faster mobile internet upload and download speeds.
The move came after Econet Wireless launched an LTE service for non-mobile gadgets for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation general assembly jointly hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia last year.According to the Ministry of Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, the total cost of the transmitters would be around US$30 million. Television transmitters in Zimbabwe are owned and managed by Transmedia Corporation.
For ZBC, digitising the studios would cost US$70 million, while digital content production would require US$5 million. The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), which regulates the sector, would require about US$5 million to migrate the regulation of television broadcasting. They would also need to buy monitoring equipment which would cost about US$1,5 million. NetOne managing director, Reward Kangai, recently said LTE deployment was one of the areas his company was focusing on following the allocations of LTE spectrums.
NetOne has signed on Huawei in a network upgrade contract, which also aims to build LTE cell towers.
"Spectrum has been allocated. NetOne is implementing LTE in a broader way as we want to implement LTE across the whole country," he said. Kangai added that the passive infrastructure for the deployment of LTE broadband has already been constructed. He however said that POTRAZ, the telecom sector watchdog in Zimbabwe, had to play its role in facilitating the allocation of better spectrum platforms that enable easy deployment of services such as LTE.
"I would like to urge Potraz to do their planning in terms of revamping the frequency band to assist the mobile operators in terms of rolling out LTE network," Kangai said.
In an earlier interview with the Financial Gazette, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Sam Kundishora, said his ministry was undercapitalised and might fail to meet the 2015 deadline for migration of broadcasting services from analogue to digital. In 2013, the ICT ministry bid for US$11,2 million from the national budget but was allocated US$7,2 million.
Of this amount, only US$4,8 million was released. In 2014, the ministry bid for US$82,1 million but received a budget allocation of US$11,6 million. So far, only US$201,109 is said to have been released. "Government is making a mistake by removing the ICT Ministry from their priority list," Kundishora said.
The digital transition in broadcasting is a global process involving the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting signals. There are a number of countries which are said to have completed this transition and many more that are reportedly making the transition. The process of the digital transition in broadcasting involves re-allocating frequencies and has been agreed by the International Telecommunication Union's Regional Telecommunication Conference (RRC). African countries are committed to migrating to digital broadcasting by June 2015.