Digital Migration: GSMA Calls for Inclusive Policies

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Emma Okonji

The GSMA has launched a new report on Digital Migration Process in Kenya, while calling on other African countries that are preparing for digital migration to develop inclusive policies that will support hitch-free migration.

The report highlights the valuable lessons that can be derived from the Kenya’s experience with its digital switchover in the last 10 years. The report provides useful information and guidance to regulators and policymakers from other countries where similar migration processes are ongoing or being planned.

According to the Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA, John Giusti, “For countries that want to connect more of their citizens to the enabling power of mobile technology, making the so-called Digital Dividend spectrum (700/800 MHz band) available is key to expanding coverage.”

He added: “As one of the largest and most diverse economies in East Africa, Kenya is a hub for technology and innovation in the region. One thing the country’s digital television migration shows is that, irrespective of the challenges faced, they can be overcome.”

Planning for the analogue to digital television migration in Kenya began in 2006. The government had a powerful vision that the migration would not only be a vehicle to deliver improved audio-visual content to Kenyan consumers, but would also more efficiently and effectively utilise spectrum, freeing up the Digital Dividend spectrum band for mobile.
Nigeria, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), is working hard to meet up with the June 20, 2017 deadline for its digital switchover.

Speaking on the importance of digital migration, Giusti said Digital Dividend spectrum is ideal for reaching more people with mobile broadband, as these lower-frequency bands can cover wider areas with fewer base stations than higher frequencies. This reduces deployment costs and allows operators to provide broader, more affordable coverage, especially in rural areas where connectivity can be a challenge. But it is about more than just rural areas; Digital Dividend spectrum also delivers benefits in urban areas, providing improved indoor coverage as these frequencies can more easily penetrate buildings.

According to the report, in Kenya, as in other African countries, the digital migration process required consideration and implementation of a broad range of issues including policy, the state of the broadcasting market, funding for the migration, public outreach, consumer equipment availability and the inclusion of stakeholders in the planning process.

The report listed some key lessons from Kenya’s migration experience to include how it all started with a well-planned roadmap, with its governments facilitating a smooth and successful digital migration process by establishing a well-planned migration roadmap and obtaining buy-in from stakeholders;

According to the report, the roadmap should include as many details as possible regarding the repurposing of the Digital Dividend spectrum, including specific timelines for clearing the band and awarding the spectrum. In addition, the plan should specify the process the government will use to grant the spectrum to new operators.

It also said governments should request and give due consideration to industry input throughout the migration process, including during the planning that precedes any actual technical changes. This, it said, would encourage commitment from stakeholders, reducing the possibility of legal challenges and delays;

The report further said in developing timelines for the process, all stakeholders should understand that adjustments will likely be necessary to address challenges and unanticipated developments. At the same time, multiple timeline adjustments create confusion and lack of certainty for consumers about the digital migration process. Such adjustments should be implemented only when objectively necessary and when their benefits outweigh the increased uncertainty, the report added.

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with almost 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors.