13 October 2012

Africa: Skeptism As 2015 Digital Migration Deadline Nears

Johannesburg — THERE is a lot of skepticism surrounding Africa meeting the digital migration deadline of 2015, as the global deadline for switching from analogue to digital broadcasting draws near.

The Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA) Managing Director, Mr Koenie Schutte, told a Digital Dialogue Conference here that it was his conviction that the deadline would not be met by many countries."Even if the deadline isn't met, there is nothing really drastic that happens since there is little difference between analogue and digital broadcasting.

However, this is only for the period just after the switch over, with time, there will be effects," he said.Journalists from across the African continent are meeting in Johannesburg for the Digital Dialogue Conference organised by MultiChoice Africa, that aims at unlocking and exploring the digital migration process which has begun around the world.

Mr Schutte explained that after the switch over, countries that will not have switched when its neighbours have done so, will experience interference in transmission.He said that since spectrum is lacking in analogue broadcasting, limiting mobile operators from expanding their services, a country that will not have switched will have to endure a lot of pressure and hostility from its mobile operators.

"Digital broadcast means there will be at least a 36 per cent increase of spectrum and the mobile operators have their eyes on that, not switching will make life very difficult," he said.Mr Schutte said that not switching to digital will eventually affect the economy, hence, limiting development because of the vast revenue generating opportunities that come with digital.

The UK Digital Communications Director, Ms Beth Thoren, said that adequate funding and a good communications strategy were the ingredients needed to switch over to digital.The UK became the first country in the world to switch to digital broadcasting this year, after seven years of educating the masses and laying out the communication messages.

Ms Thoren admitted that UK was lucky because it had 200 million US dollars at its disposal which was funded by broadcasters."We were able to switch over because apart from the funding which is essential, we ensured that we were honest to the people about extra costs to them, we corrected and responded to all articles that were written about the campaign and we were firm about the date that would be switching over," she said.

She explained that after the switch over, from the 11 million people living in London, they received 160,000 calls where six people brought complaints and 20 people complimented them.Ms Thoren said that the total cost of the switch over was 130 million US dollars and since April when they switched, they have between two billion and 10 billion pounds from the sale of the spectrum of 4G and TV sales had increased by 20 per cent.

South African technology journalist, Aki Anastasiou, said that over the past decade, there were significant things happening in technology in Africa and that it was leapfrogging other continents in technology.Mr Anastasiou said that three years ago smart phones availability were only a drop in the ocean in African, but now almost everyone had a smart phone and that the level of innovation on the continent was mind-blowing.

"Ten years ago, there was hardly any internet connectivity but today fibre optic cables are criss-crossing all over Africa. I am very sure that next Facebook founder, Bill Gates is coming from this continent," he said.He, however, cautioned that countries needed to be careful on which technologies they were adopting, because the wrong choice could cost the countries their economy.

It is estimated that in the next ten years, there will be more than 50 billion devices, meaning that technological devices will surpass the population of the world.The Geneva 2006 Agreement sets 17 June 2015 as the date after which countries may use those frequencies currently assigned for analogue television transmission for digital services, without being required to protect the analogue services of neighbouring countries against interference.

This date is generally viewed as an internationally mandated analogue switch-off date, at least along national borders.

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