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Broadcasters to undertake digital switchover PDF Print E-mail

By Edris Kisambira

 January 2011 is the date set by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for the switchover transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

Should Uganda successfully see this timeline through, it would have achieved the switchover three years ahead of the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) set deadline of December 2015.

 

“January 2011 is digital switch-on but the analogue and digital systems will run together in what we have called a simulcast period but by December 2012, all analogue systems will be switched off,” Patrick Mwesigwa, the technical director UCC said at a national consultative meeting that was called to discuss the migration plan.

After the switchover, the broadcasters will offer the audience programme diversity, better content, high quality video and will incur lower operating costs through use of compression technology and it will enable radio and TV broadcasters to share infrastructure.

There would also be more channels available, it would enable e-government services, upgrade of broadcasting infrastructure and the costs of maintaining the analogue signal and its distribution shall escalate with the passing of time, with no new analogue signal transmission technology being manufactured.

Uganda has opted for the phased approach to shut-off analogue region by region like has been the case in Germany and France. UCC will license one other signal distributor in addition to national broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation – only if it meets regulatory conditions.

“Broadcasters will have the chance to make more money since their costs will have come down,” Mwesigwa said. Under the new broadcasting dispensation, the signal distributors would incur the bulk of costs.

Last year, Patrick Masambu, the executive director UCC told a group of jittery broadcasters that Uganda would be required to meet the deadline for the switchover. The groundwork has been laid,  as well as a national consultative meeting.

Digital Television (DTV) is the broadcast standard that will replace the age-long analogue transmission system seen on today's televisions like Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC).

The digital transmission system captures images and sounds using a digital code comprising of ones and zeros, just like computers.

The key features of DTV include High Definition Television (HDTV), Multicasting in Standard Definition Television (MSDTV) and data transmission among others. The ITU deadline means that all broadcasters who would still be transmitting their broadcasting signal on the old technology would no longer be protected from harmful interference of their broadcasting services.

For regulators, the migration would enable them have better price spectrum. The transition also offers numerous opportunities for governments to meet developmental challenges such as reducing the digital divide and improving access to information, poverty eradication and creating new employment opportunities.

Mwesigwa said the key challenge would stem from the costs associated with replacement of the analogue with digital equipment and the new frequency planning that would have to be undertaken by UCC.

To achieve migration, UCC has proposed a four-phase approach. The first phase will be preparatory and will include approval of the migration plan by cabinet and the pilot digital transmissions. A simulcast phase to ensure that viewers without set-top boxes are not deprived of service will precede the switchover.

According to UCC, the market will have a signal distributor and the benefits out of this is lower transmission costs per broadcaster, better efficiency in spectrum management, lower initial costs for new broadcasters and reduced adverse impact on the environment among others.

This will also free the broadcasters to concentrate on content development and creation, which is their core business. Providers will also have the opportunity to offer more services though this may call for new investment.

For the migration plan to succeed, Mwesigwa said listeners (radio) and viewers (television) must understand what is going to happen. “The worst that can happen is for the broadcasters to match the type of picture on offer today,” Mwesigwa said. “Viewers especially should not be disappointed after the change.”

Today, minus pay-TV, Uganda has 45 licensed terrestrial TV providers (less than ten are operational) and 297 FM radio stations.

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