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Analogue broadcast signals die hard in Africa

Analogue broadcast signals die hard in Africa

Hard shut-off tactics could be used by more African countries to meet a June 2015 digital broadcast migration deadline.

This is according to Russell Southwood, the chief executive officer of research firm Balancing Act, who says most African countries are not on track to meet the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline.

Only Mauritius, Tanzania and Rwanda have completed the migration to digital broadcasting, a process aimed at opening up spectrum for mobile broadband use.

Tanzania completed its digital migration last year, even though only 500,000 decoders were in use compared to an estimated 3 million television sets owned by Tanzanian households.

Meanwhile, Rwanda turned off its analogue signal on July 31 this year, despite the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) admitting that 27% of its people with television sets had not yet acquired the necessary decoders.

But Southwood forecasts that at least one other African nation will follow the lead of Tanzania and Rwanda by shutting off analogue broadcasting even if thousands of households are yet to obtain the necessary set-top boxes.

"On the digital deadline, there's about five countries that will make the deadline by having a 'hard' shut-off. In other words, they don't worry too much whether their citizens have actually bought decoders or not," he said.

"It's a complicated process that takes several years and most countries have only just started. When countries say they will meet the deadline, there is a confusion between starting the process and actually finishing the process properly."

Africa's slow digital migration march

Meanwhile, other countries are facing serious digital migration challenges, most notably Kenya, where digital migration remains mired in court action.

And in spite of being Africa's most developed nation, South Africa's digital migration process has been an unmitigated failure to date amid confusion about whether it is the responsibility of telecommunications minister Siyabonga Cwele or communications minister Faith Muthambi, following President Jacob Zuma's decision to split the Department of Communications (DoC) after this year's elections.

Steven Ambrose, managing director of Strategy Worx, said South Africa and other African countries face a number of serious repercussions if they miss the global deadline for migration.

"The main issue is that the world has gone digital, all the broadcast equipment and systems are now fully digital. In addition all the development in online delivery platforms and other alternative systems are now digital," Ambrose said.

"Broadcast systems are still the best method of low cost distribution of content from one point to many people simultaneously. Africa will need one to many terrestrial broadcasts for many years to come even as most of the developed world moves to on demand streaming of content via the internet."

He said South Africa's analogue television broadcast infrastructure is also "old and .

essentially obsolete", with the country facing high costs in maintaining this infrastructure.

"There is a real danger of large portions of the country having no broadcasts at all due to equipment failure and the difficulty of repair and replacement," he said.

Ambrose also said the growth of mobile broadband could be "severely limited" without the additional spectrum - "the so-called digital dividend" - that would be freed up by migration to the digital platform.

"The so-called high demand spectrum that will become available from the country going digital will not become available any time soon.The impact of that is significant as mobile is the main connectivity option for South Africa and much of Africa," he said.

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