Digital migration: Will Kenya meet deadline?

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Image: By BizTechAfrica
Digital migration: Will Kenya meet deadline?

By Carole Kimutai, Nairobi, Kenya

In December 2009, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki launched the Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial (DVB-T) technology.

This marked the country’s migration from analogue to digital technology and made Kenya the second country in Africa - after South Africa - to embrace digital technology.

Kenya is a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and during a telecommunication conference in 2006, it was agreed that member countries should have migrated to digital technology in line with the ITU deadline of June, 2015.

Kenya has given itself 2012 as the deadline to make the digital switch. However, it looks like it could be an ambitious deadline after recent media reports hinted that the migration may not happen in 2012 as planned.

“It is not an ambitious deadline. We have already started the implementation of DVB-T2 and it is just a matter of scaling up,” explains Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication while speaking to this writer. Dr. Ndemo reveals that the problem is actually the set-top boxes. “We are still working with the Treasury to see if we can subsidise them.”

Digital broadcasting is a type of technology that involves transmitting TV signals using digital methods. TV signals are converted from analogue and transmitted as digital signals.

There was a directive by President Kibaki to waive duty and VAT on set- top boxes (converters) to enable Kenyans afford the equipment and meet the migration deadline. If all had gone as planned, Kenya was hoping to have finished deploying the Digital network countrywide by June 2012. Television viewers would have to use a converter or a Digital compliant TV to view terrestrial TV. Set-top boxes are a short-term intervention before people upgrade their sets to digital sets and for most people to be able to afford them.

Technology upgrade

In 2010, DVB – T set top boxes were already being sold in Kenya. The Digital Kenya Secretariat through a Public Notice advised that since the enhanced features on the DVB-T standard have motivated a number of countries to upgrade to the DVB-T2 standard, the subsequent rollout of digital broadcasting infrastructure in Kenya would be on the DVB-T2 platform. “DVB-T and DVB-T2 platforms will run concurrently in Nairobi for the entire duration of the simulcast period, which is expected to come to a close in 2012. However, in order to access programmes on the DVB-T2 platform, consumers will have to acquire DVB-T2 set- top boxes,” read the Public Notice.

The Secretariat advised members of the public that although DVB-T2 compliant set-top boxes are capable of receiving and correctly displaying digital TV signals transmitted on both DVB-T and DVB-T2 digital platforms, a DVB-T compliant set top box is limited to only receiving DVB-T digital signal and is not capable of correctly receiving and displaying digital TV signals transmitted on a DVB-T2 digital platform.

Vendors of equipment were advised in November 2010 to cease any further importation of the DVB-T set-top boxes and all importations of the set-top boxes were required to comply with the Government approved DVB-T2 system specifications. All equipment suppliers and vendors were advised to obtain type approval of the set-top boxes from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) in line with the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act No. 1 of 2009.

To make the set-top boxes affordable for Kenyans, the Government had approached The University of Nairobi to come up with a prototype and the plan was to have local entrepreneurs to manufacture in mass.

A bumpy migration

Dr. Ndemo says the main challenge is the pricing of the set-top boxes. “Unlike the US where the government paid for them, it could be a bit challenging in Kenya.” Governments in countries like New Zealand, Austria and the European Union has subsidised top-set boxes.

There have also been disagreements between the regulator (CCK) and Kenyan broadcasters after CCK awarded the second digital distributor license to a Chinese firm owned by Start Times of China. After contesting the second award, CCK allowed Kenyan broadcasters to form a third consortium. With cut-throat competition amongst the five mainly privately owned television broadcasters - NTV, Citizen, KTN, K24, and KISSTV - shareholding in the third company is yet to be made public.

Digital broadcasting is expected to grow Kenya’s media industry and will most likely see a new crop of content producers like local musicians. The music sector is a thriving industry.

Dr. Ndemo is still optimistic that Kenya can still meet the deadline. “We are already transmitting from the Kenyan Capital Nairobi and its environs but we need to put about six base stations which will cover about 70% of the country. Because of the geographical cover it will be a challenge to cover North Eastern regions, so we will get space on the satellite,” says Dr. Ndemo.

From a long-term perspective, digital broadcasting comes with many advantages. Broadcasters will not incur huge costs for broadcasting frequencies, buying transmission equipment, and leasing transmission sites. All broadcasters will be required to do, is send the signal distributer their content for broadcasting. Environmentally, this is a plus as people won’t put up masts anywhere haphazardly because under the ITU agreement, there will be designated areas where broadcasting masts and sites will be constructed.

In November 2011, a digital migration meeting organised the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) in partnership with the Ministry of Information and Communications, CCK and other organizations, the Digital Migration and Spectrum Policy Summit brought together policy makers, regulators, broadcasting and ICT experts across the African region to discuss effective regional approaches that ATU members could adopt in transitioning and re-allocating digital spectrum.

The meeting also looked at the need to recast thinking on public sector spectrum management in light of liberalization, increased demand for spectrum and the need to deploy broadband networks for rural and underserved areas.

One of the highlights of the meeting was the need to educate consumers on the digital migration process and the role they ought to play for the switchover to take off. The Government has allocated USD one million for this education campaign which is supposed to start this year.

According to Dr. Ndemo, it is possible to be fully compliant by July 2012. “However, the decision for us to switch over depends on the Cabinet. The benefits of an early switch off are that we would then be able to have ample time to deal with the teething problems before the actual deadline of 2015.”



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