7 December 2012

Namibia: Dawn of the Digital Age


ON WEDNESDAY this week the Minister of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) Joël Kaapanda symbolically switched on the nascent Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) service at the premises of the national broadcaster, NBC.

This gesture, though symbolic for now, is far-reaching because once it is rolled out DTT will confine to the technological archives all analogue NBC equipment.

The technical DTT switch-on was witnessed by the chairman of the NBC Board Sven Thieme, and foreign dignitaries, including the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia.

The digital network will be rolled out over a three-year period. Tests and trials of the technology will precede the actual launch, set for April 2013.

Though it will cost over N$500 million, DTT will usher in a new era for all Namibian viewers who stand to benefit immensely from the switchover. The costs for this venture of strategic importance is immaterial because the benefits of DTT will outweigh, by far, the hefty price tag of the planned digitalisation.

It should be noted it is mandatory for all SADC states - Namibia included - to meet the December 2013 deadline to switch over to DTT, though some countries have fretted and want this deadline extended to 2015.

For the benefit of NBC viewers this editorial will disseminate some information on what is DTT; and what is the difference between terrestrial and satellite television. Why the switchover? How will DTT benefit TV viewers and what is a set-top box (STB)?

Digital terrestrial television (DTT) refers to the broadcasting of terrestrial television in digital format. Terrestrial broadcasting in Namibia is currently in analogue format, but plans are afoot to gradually migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting.

In analogue, one channel compels NBC to use a dedicated frequency to broadcast simply because of the large amount of bandwidth required by the analogue signal. While in digital, the signal is compressed, allowing for more channels to be used to broadcast in the same bandwidth that one current analogue channel uses.

NBC is switching over to DTT in compliance with the resolution of 2006, when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) held a regional radio communication conference. It was resolved then that all European, African, Middle Eastern countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran should migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting by 2015.

The main reason for the migration is to release valuable spectrum that could be used for other services. Spectrum is scarce, and it is therefore necessary to make efficient use of the spectrum - to make it available for more telecommunications and broadcasting services.

With the digital signal encoded and compressed, DTT can on average accommodate more than 10 television channels in the same frequency as one analogue channel.

The technology will help improve the picture and sound quality of broadcast programmes and it will also provide viewers access to a host of other services.

The other benefit of DTT is that it will enable viewers to listen to radio services through their decoders.

For viewers to enjoy a raft of benefits that come with DTT, they will need a set-top box (STB) that will decode the digital signal to enable the channels to be displayed on their analogue television sets.

NBC viewers should take consolation from the fact they will also not pay a subscription fee and will receive DTT on a free-to-air basis, though they will only be required to pay their obligatory TV licences.

In this vein, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, led by Minister Kaapanda, deserves praise for ensuring Namibia is technologically sound, is techno-savvy and in synch with the times.

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