Digital Migration: Nigeria on the Match Again

16 Dec 2012

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After many years of meandering around the issue of digital migration and the reality of the 2015 deadline, stakeholders converged on Lagos last week to review the process. The two-day dialogue didn’t only point out the way forward, it unearthed a stunning revelation about the delay in the release of the White Paper expected to guide the transition, Raheem Akingbolu reports

Will Nigeria meet the 2015 deadline for digital migration? How well have stakeholders braced up to meet the technical challenges involved in the transition? How prepared is the government and operators in the broadcast industry? These are some of the questions raised recently at the Digital Dialogue Nigeria, organised by Strategic Outcomes Limited, a consulting firm, where local and international experts gathered to review the activities of stakeholders in Nigeria towards migration to digital broadcasting in 2015. The dialogue was supported by Multichoice Nigeria.

Experts Engaged Journalists
Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi, venue of the dialogue was full of activities while experts engaged journalists on the hurdles that need to be crossed before Nigeria reaches its Eldorado. Like every intellectual gathering, it gave birth to questions and critical issues, which could help in solving the problem at hand.

Barely two hours into the two-day event, the news that the Federal Government was yet to release the White Paper meant to guide the smooth transition jolted participants and confirmed the fear in some quarters that all that had since been going on were mere window dressing.  With the stunning revelation, it was obvious that the level of preparedness for the global project in Nigeria was abysmally low.
Nigerians Not Aware of the New Trend

Another point raised, which generated a lot of reactions was the fact that millions of Nigerians are yet to understand the reason behind the new broadcasting trend. Some participants believed that by this time, Nigerians were supposed to have been fully aware of the reality that in less than three years, their current analogue television sets would no longer be relevant unless they undergo transition to digital platforms.

As a result of this lack of understanding, participants after participants called for proper education on the project, especially considering the fact that most people in the cities know next to nothing about the new regime, not to talk of millions of uneducated individuals in the villages.  This is where the onus fall on journalists, who were tasked on the need to collaborate with government and operators in taking the message to the doorsteps of the people at the grassroots.

A few months ago, a similar gathering took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, which drew participants from almost all the African countries to deliberate on whether the continent would catch up with the deadline. Like in Nigerian version, the event, which was tagged ‘Digital Dialogue Conference’, also revealed that a few countries in the continent were yet to reach an appreciative level.
The major reason while stakeholders are bothered, according to an expert in digital dialogue, Mr. Jenkins Alumona, is that by 2015, the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nation’s body responsible for global telecommunications regulation and standards, in line with international agreements which Nigeria is party to, will convert the entire broadcast network by switching the terrestrial platform from analogue to digital.

He said; “If by now we are still not well informed about the gains of the migration and its challenges, then there is need for stakeholders to put all hands on deck to address the knotty areas. In the United Kingdom, where the migration had succeeded, it was a project that involved everybody in the urban and rural areas.

“From the information at my disposal, the government, major operators and even advertising practitioners worked together for many years. Considering the fact that despite the level of technology advancement in that part of the world, the project took them many years to accomplish, it is supposed to be an eye-opener to developing nations that it is not a tea cup,”

Before now, Nigeria had enthusiastically penciled down June 2012 as the period for digital terrestrial television (DDT) switch-over. At every forum, regulatory authorities and top government officials did assure Nigerians that the year was realisable, even when there was little or no master plan put in place to make the dream come through. At the end, analysts, who from time to time cried out that the nation was ill-prepared for the migration, were vindicated as the proposed deadline passed six months ago like any ordinary date. As a result of this, the digital dialogue was put together to avoid a similar failure.

Now that the federal government is yet to release the White Paper, which should provide the executive framework for the implementation of the digitalisation project, it is hard to believe that the nation would meet the deadline.
Giving the details of what to expect from the new era, if the country eventually succeeds, Alumona pointed out that “Digital television is a new and more efficient way of receiving television signals which will change the way pictures are transmitted without changing the way television is watched.” 
He stated further that the regime would be miles away from the present situation which is as old as the year of television invention that makes viewers watch through analogue television, where the signals are broadcast with radio waves, which are picked up by an aerial and sent down a wire to individual television set.

Elusive White Paper
A consultant in broadcast industry, Mr. Edward Amana, who has been part of a major technical project on broadcasting sector in Nigeria and also in the digital broadcasting process, said the White Paper, which was yet to be released provided the implementation framework for the digital transition and that a forum like the digital dialogue would gear-up government on its importance if Nigeria is keen about meeting the deadline.

Amana, who spoke on the technical requirements for the digital transition, said a policy-driven approach was needed by developing countries such as Nigeria for the switch-over, stressing that it was important for Nigeria to ensure it meets the 2015 deadline.
“If by 2015, Nigeria decides to keep to its analogue system, there may be signal interference from other neighbouring countries that have switched over and if this happens, no regulator, international or regional, will listen to us and if on the basis of our decision not to switch, we interfere with other countries broadcasting space, we would be sanctioned. So, the best option is for us to switch over by 2015,” he said.

Besides, not switching to the digital mode by 2015 would also have serious security implications for the armed forces and other security agencies in the country.

Amana urged the government to provide incentives for companies that will be involved in local contents production to drive the digital transition process, adding that capacity building on new engineering knowledge for digital broadcasting is critical.
Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission, Mr. Yomi Bolarinwa, who gave the opening remark at the event said; “If Nigeria still continue with analogue by 2015, transition from neighbouring countries like Cameroon and Ghana can intervene with Nigeria system and create enormous problem in the broadcasting industry.”

The Director General confirmed the delay in the release of the White Paper but explained that the government had been working seriously to meet the deadline.  To fast track the process, he said a group would soon be inaugurated by the government to drive the implementation process.

Waiting for Digital Dividend
He said the digital transition would also make it possible for Nigeria to enjoy what he called digital dividend, which is the spectrum that would be freed up after the transition and can be deployed for other purposes.  According to him, the transition will also require the use of set-up boxes to receive digital contents which he said the government was working on to manufacture in Nigeria.  For instance, he pointed out that as at 2008, Nigeria had taken decision to start broadcasting with the new broadcasting standards known as DVB-T2.

The Director General also spoke on the importance of spectrum as the basis of transmission of all mobile telephony, internet, broadcasting, satellite and mobile technologies and that it is ever more in demand as mobile broadband grows in particular the use of heavy data transmission applications such as video in developed markets.  He said it must be allocated and managed at National and International level.

He however warned that the transition must be handled carefully, since the implications for the daily life of citizens makes this different from other allocations of spectrum.  “Television plays a significant role in the social life of much of the Nigerian population, thus ensuring a smooth move to digital services without loss of broadcasting or interference issues is socially and politically desirable” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Bolarinwa’s claim that Nigeria had taken decision to be DVB-T2-compliant since 2008 was taken with mix-feelings because most broadcasting houses are yet to offer deploy the technology, which is also imperative for successful digital broadcasting.

In his recommendation, the new chair of the DVB Technical Modules, who is familiar with the same process in other countries including UK, Mr. Nick Wells stated that UKDVB-T2 is the most advanced terrestrial modulation standard available and that it has now been adopted by 56 countries, with many more countries to follow.    He said; “The adoption of DVB-T2 by very large markets like India and Russia mean that DVB-T2 equipment will become very cheap – for the benefit of all. Those countries that have already moved from analogue TV to DVB-T now need to undertake a second digital switchover from DVB-T to DVB-T2.

According to him, “To choose DVB, and in particular DVB-T2, are wise and far-sighted decisions”
If the experts at the dialogue are right with their postulations, it means that failure of Nigeria to achieve the 2015 deadline for digital broadcasting would not only prevent the country from enjoying the digital dividend but will also create spectrum crunch for the telecoms sector, whose regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission, had been on standby for the digital dividend spectrum come 2015 for the deployment of Long Term Evolution broadband services.

Place of Content Providers
To a Movie Producer, Mrs. Amaka Igwe, another area, where Nigeria needs to work on quickly is to properly define the role of broadcasting signal distributors and content creators in the entire project.

According to her, in digital transmission, broadcasting companies will only have the role of content providers while government through contracted parties will undertake the job to distribute the content, saying that the new deal requires new skills and new tricks in market segmentation and specialisation.

“The Federal Government intends to licence a minimum of two and maximum of three broadcasting signal distributors, to facilitate transition and service delivery processes. There is no doubt that the digital era requires new style for Nigeria’s broadcasting content development and distribution” she said.

The assurance by the Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mr. Bolaji Adebiyi, and the NBC DG that Federal Government was ready to ensure that necessary measures are put in place to ensure that the June 17, 2015 set for transition from analogue to digital broadcasting for Nigeria is achieved, not withstanding, not a few people left the venue of the dialogue with pessimistic thoughts that Nigeria may fail if nothing is done quickly.

Many participants believed that both Adebiyi and Bolarinwa were only being diplomatic about the current issue, which informed the decision by a few speakers to give the two government functionary verbal messages to the seat of power on the need for pragmatic approach to the migration.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Digital Migration

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