8 January 2014

Rwanda: Digital Switchover - Set-Top Box Distributors Gear Up for High Demand

Rwanda hopes to beat the new deadline for migration from analogue to digital TV transmission as the demand for set-top boxes is steadily growing. Rwanda Utilities and Regulation Authority (Rura) outlined a new progressive deadline that will see several parts of the country switched-off from analogue broadcasting beginning end of this month and culminating in the July 31 complete switch-off.

This paper understands that more people have since acquired set-top boxes (STBs) compared to previously when the country was forced to postpone the migration deadline. Rura authorised four STB vendors to import and distribute (retail) the Set Top Boxes across the country before the migration date.

Currently, Star Times has been able to put about 80,000 households on the digital system with sales of their pay-per-view services and set-top boxes. Tele10 TV, another authorised distributor of the set-top boxes, has so far sold about 7,000 set top boxes, and according to the group's marketing manager, Kim Kizito, they are making sales of about 100 per day.

The other two distributors are Sorim Ltd and TransAfrican Container Transport Ltd. The companies confirmed that they have enough set-top boxes in stock and have made arrangements to acquire more if they run out of stock.

The sales and marketing executive at Star Times, Hussein Kamanzi, said they have enough stock to meet the demand as well as qualified technicians to assist in the installation and counter any issues that may arise.

The company gives buyers options of buying an ordinary set top box that allows them to watch the free to air channels that can be later upgraded to work as pay-per-view decoder. The set-top box retails at Rwf39,000 while the subscription is at Rwf23,500.

Tele10's Kizito said at Rwf28,000, their set-top boxes come programmed to make it easier for the user. "Our decoders are plug-in-and-play; buyers only have to plug them in while using them," Kizito said.

Medard Nezehoze, Sorim Ltd managing director, said they are employing a house-to-house model for the distribution and installation of the set top boxes which are retailing at Rwf35,000.

"We have trained a group of technicians to programme and install the boxes as well as provide after sales service to clients."

Jean Claude Rugira, a resident of Rusororo Sector in Kabuga, is one of those who recently acquired set top boxes ahead of January 31 deadline for Kigali.

"Previously, TV reception was poor and not even having a long outdoor antennae helped to improve the quality. But currently I have noted great improvement in the picture quality and I also have access to channels I didn't have in the past," Rugira said.

More options

Jean Baptiste Mutabazi, who heads the communication and media regulation department in Rura, said based on the number of people subscribed to the various pay TV services, they estimate the number of set-top boxes required for the analogue switch-off to be around 80,000.

He said the idea of switching off in phases is to avoid logistical problems.

"Doing it at the same time would leave some people at a disadvantage as they would have challenges procuring decoders as they have to be imported. By now we have enough for use in Kigali to begin the switch over. The people concerned and who should make an effort to get the set top boxes are those who currently watch only one TV station; RTV by Rwanda Broadcasting Corporation," he said.

Mutabazi said Rura would soon launch a countrywide awareness campaign until July as well as put in place a hotline where customers can call and inquire in case they have any challenges with set top boxes.

"We also asked the distributors to label their set top boxes to avoid incidences of some fraudsters taking advantage of the situation and selling counterfeits. All in all we are on track and expect the process to have as few challenges as possible."

Mutabazi said other than good reception for viewers, the digital platform will be beneficial to the country in several ways.

Previously, government postponed an earlier deadline set by the East African Community partner states to switch to digital TV broadcasting because of scarcity of digital broadcasting converters.

The International Telecommunications Unit global deadline to switch over to digital transmission is June 17, 2015.

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