Botswana stuck with her choice of the ISDB-T Set Top Box

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

When the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) requested countries to ditch the analogue for digital transmission by the 2015 deadline, all seemed smooth and clear.  However, not after Botswana, the only country in the region chose to go for the Japanese ISDB-T against other countries in the SADC region who opted for the European standard of Digital Migration; the Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial or (DVB-T2).

Against Botswana’s choices however were warnings from the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADBA) two years prior to the ITU cut-off date that by using the Japanese platform, the digital migration would be more expensive compared to the DBV-T2 that other neighbouring countries opted for.

In its warnings, the broadcasting association had stated that “The radio frequency channel bandwidth used in Africa is 8 MHz and not 6 MHz as in the case in all the countries in which ISDB-T2 has been deployed. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the mass produced ISDB-T devices available and those required for Botswana. Unique chipsets and ISDB-T receivers would need to be developed exclusively for Botswana.”

However, according to latest media reports, the government ignored the advice and instead argued that the ISDB-T technology was the best to use. By 2013, Botswana had reportedly spent about $16million (about P160 million) on the digital migration.

By 2015, the year of the deadline, the then deputy permanent secretary in the office of the President, Mogomotsi Kaboyamodimo defended the decision saying “manufacturers are not bound by one standard or another, they supply to customer requests. Botswana satellite services will not be affected in any way by the and so there is no question of isolation in terms of Botswana not being able to communicate with the rest of the world, or content and technologies failing to work in Botswana.”

A year later, the government was still defending the choice of the technology, with a presidential affairs minister, Philip Makgalemela, telling a Parliament that “the decision to choose ISDB-T was based on the outcome of a comparative assessment and evaluation of technical and performance capabilities of the two standards.”  By then, according to Makgalemela revelation, the set top boxes were not yet available in the country and that the government was working around the clock to ensure that the devices could be sourced locally in addition to facilitating their availability in the local market. His target due date was June 2016.

The same media report stated that the following year, 2017, the then Minister for presidential affairs, Governance and Public Administration Eric Molale announced to parliament that government had already spent over $18million compared to the $13million that was planned for the exercise. The breakdown of the expenditure was illustrated thus: $7 million was spent on procuring 45 digital transmitters and Satellite Appling System, $2.5 million on Botswana Television (BTV) studio facilities upgrade, $3.3 million on acquisition of content and about $1.7 million on public campaigns and outreaches. All in all over 9 500 set top boxes had been acquired, with the devices mostly given to crowds as hand-outs to raise awareness as well as market the digital transmission at a cost of approximately $1.5 million.

An adding to the huge bill of $18 million was the upgrade of the Transmitter Cabling Systems which chewed about $1.8 million with the vehicles that carried the equipment cost about $0.2 million to procure.

However, while the government’s intention was to be completely done by analogue by 2018, developments on the ground show a failed project. Another minister added that digital migration was not going to plan in the country because of the choice of the technology, which makes Botswana the only country in the SADC region to that had chosen the Japanese technology over the widely popular European technology.  According to Minister Nonofo Molefhi, speaking with the Japanese Akinihiko Miyamoto, who is the Director General of Global ICT Strategy Bureau that “importation and distribution of the set top boxes was expensive.”        

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