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Nigeria leads African nations in digitization process – Amana

Chairman of Digiteam, Nigeria’s implementation committee on the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, Engineer Edward Amana tells MIRIAM HUMBE that in spite of inability to meet up its June 2017 target date for digitization, Nigeria is ahead of neighbouring African nations, the process has started and the country is being switched on in phases. Excerpts:

Much has been said about Nigeria’s process to switch over from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting. What is digital switch over?
For over 50 years, television signal transmission has been based on the analogue platform where each channel in the Very High Frequency (VHF) uses 7 MHz. and the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) uses 8 MHz. of Bandwidth to deliver one television programme to the viewers at home. Digital television is the new format that has come to replace the old analogue system. Digital television uses the same system as computers and it is capable of delivering many programmes in the same space where, previously the analogue system delivers only one programme.

What is wrong with the analogue broadcasting, necessitating a digital switch over?
The Analogue System has reached its carrying capacity, but television broadcasting is still developing and evolving. Digital television has the capacity to meet the expanding capabilities of the television broadcasting system. Secondly, digital television allows a more efficient use of the broadcast spectrum so that other important service, such as mobile broadband could be improved for national development. Thirdly, the change to digital television is a global movement led by the International Telecommunication Union, ITU. Nigeria, as a Member State of the ITU cannot be left behind. Fourth; after the transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting, some of the spectrum that will be left by television industry, often referred to as ‘’Digital Dividend’’ will be auctioned by government to the telecomm industry to generate a lot of revenue for government. Fifth; digitization will lead to a greater number of television stations and a greater variety of programmes.

How will digital broadcasting benefit Nigerians?
It will in so many ways:
• Better picture and sound quality
• More television programmes and a greater variety of programming
• A lot of job creation resulting from new television stations coming aboard and the fact that Set Top Boxes that will enable the existing analogue TV receivers to continue receiving television programmes after the switch over, are being manufactured in Nigeria.
• Economic benefits from the more efficient use of the spectrum.

Of what economic advantage to Nigerians is the digital switch over, especially in terms of job creation?
Many new Television Stations are being Licenced thus creating jobs. Digital Television is a 24/7 operation. There is therefore a great demand for Programmes. Thus more jobs for the Producers of Television Programmes.

The Spectrum to be vacated by Television Broadcasting (Referred to as Digital Dividend) will be sold to the Telecomm Industry for a lot of money. Beyond the monetary value of the Digital Dividend, these bands of frequencies will be deployed to provide Mobile Broadband which is the quickest way to bring Broadband services to the Rural

Areas of the country. Set Top Boxes are being manufactured in Nigeria. This has already created and it is still creating a lot of jobs for Nigerians. Apart from the young men and women working in these factories, there are distributors and retailers marketing the Set Top Boxes and technicians helping to install and activate the Set Top Boxes.

Nigeria set 2012 for broadcast stations to be digitized, then June 2017. We seem to be behind schedule. What are the challenges?
The June 17, 2012 Switch Over date was from the recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) which submitted its report on 20th June 2009. Unfortunately, the government of the day could not address the issues of digitization till 20th of December 2012 when DigiTeam Nigeria, the Implementation Committee for the Transition was inaugurated. Even after the Committee was inaugurated, there was no funding for the process.
The main challenges therefore were the lack of political will, funding and lack of synergy amongst the various stakeholders.

With the transition from analogue to digital viewing in Jos, Plateau state on April 30, 2016, and in Abuja on December 22, 2016, other states appear left behind, beyond the June 2017 date. How long will it be before the entire nation is digitized?
From Abuja we are moving to six States, one each, in the six geo-political zones of the country. From these we will progressively expand until all states of the country are digitized. How quickly these happens depends greatly on the production ability of the Set Top Box manufacturers. The switch off of analogue transmitters can only happen when Set Top Boxes are available for all television owners in the country.

According to the National Broadcasting Corporation, the next step is to simultaneously switch on six states, each drawn from the geopolitical zones of the country by engaging the Nigerian Governors Forum in the next phase of digitization process. How is this expected to work out?
The regulator for broadcasting in Nigeria is the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC. What the Director General of NBC means in engaging the Governors Forum is mainly in the areas of empowering the poor of their states in the acquisition of Set Top Boxes to enable them continue watching television after the switch over. Also a number of the states need to upgrade their television production facilities to digital standards, re-train their staff and empower their television stations for 24 hour transmission.

How will the switch over process help improve internet connectivity for users?
There are a lot of Over The Top (OTT) capabilities within the Set Top Boxes manufactured in Nigeria. Those who want to use their Set Top Box as an internet hub can purchase a Dongle that will enable them access the internet but you will have to pay for data.

Television owners are expected to get ‘set top boxes’ to receive digital signals. What are their functions, and are the boxes sufficient to cover the entire households in the country?
The Set Top Box primarily is to convert digital signals from the digital television transmitter to analogue signals that your analogue television can receive. These Boxes are being manufactured in Nigeria and before we embark on switching on any location we will ensure that sufficient numbers of boxes for that area are available. The country will be switched on in phases.

Nigeria was signatory to the International Telecommunications Union agreement tagged: “Geneva 2006”, which mandated all countries to switch over so as to avoid signal interference from other countries. Where are we presently, when compared to our neighbouring African nations?
At the moment we are ahead of our neighbours. We have had visits from some of our neighbouring countries to look at our model of transition and we are actually assisting some of these countries in their transition. Thank you for the opportunity to use your medium to enlighten the Public.

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