Nigeria: Digital Switchover May Delay Till 2021

Despite 10 years already wasted on the digital switchover (DSO) journey, the nation may still not attain it until 2021.

A digital broadcasting plan covering 116 countries (mainly in Africa and Europe) was agreed for the frequency bands 174-230 MHz and 470-862 MHz at the ITU Regional Radio Communication Conference (RRC‑06) in Geneva in June 2006.

According to the plan (known as the GE06), the latest set date for switch off was June 17, 2015 (except for some countries in frequency bands where the deadline is June 17, 2020).

But due to lack of political will, inadequate funding and corruption, Nigeria could not transit by the set date and opted to go regional in phases.

An analogue broadcast signal directly represents the transmitted sound and picture through deliberate variations in signal voltage and radio frequencies. All systems preceding digital television were analogue television systems, while digital broadcasting works by translating sound and picture into digital data rather than analogue waveforms. There is a worldwide transition to digital broadcasting but a much slower process of digitalisation for radio.

Part of the process to ensure a hitch-free exercise is the digital mapping of the country. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), charged with making sure Nigeria transits from analogue to digital broadcasting, has however concluded this.

The Guardian learnt that the 2021 date is a 25-month period during which the NBC hopes to complete the switchover. The commission will begin with densely populated areas, including Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt as test grounds.

NBC's director general, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, confirmed this new development in an interview at the weekend.

He however revealed that a major boost to the initiative would be a N30 billion the commission is expecting from the Federal Government. He said the money would be released in two batches of N15 billion and would be repaid from resources that would be realised from the list of frequencies to be auctioned, including the 700MHz.

The director general maintained that a broadcasting revolution is forthcoming. According to him, the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting will not only create opportunities for the provision of ICT services but also improve the economy.

He disclosed that the NBC now has a plan for all the locations where it will have digital transmission facilities, especially the major population centres in the country. "It is very important because if you look at the demography of Nigeria, the majority of Nigerians, for the first time in history, now live in the urban areas," Kawu said.

"What we have decided to do is to consider taking digital broadcasting to all those major population centres. In the past, we started with regional rollout; we choose a state by geo-political zone. But with a little mapping process, we now have all the major population centres. Indeed, over the next 15 to 25 months, the possibilities are that we are going to be rolling out in these major centres.

"More significantly, we are working on the possibility of bringing the original plan that we had initially, and then launch in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt. This is a major development," he said.

Kawu said further that the NBC, for the past three months, has been discussing with a South Korean company on the acquisition of Set Top Boxes (STB) or decoders. According to him, the company had accepted to come and put facilities in place to produce one million STBs in

Nigeria, "so that we can have boxes that will service the rollout in the different locations."

He said: "In the past, the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) in China insisted they are paid before production. But now the Koreans are saying, 'we will give you the facility. You produce in Nigeria then you can sell and give us the money.' And that is very significant for all the companies because there is not a lot of money for them from the banking system. That is a major development for us, in terms of being able to roll out in Lagos, Kano as well as Port Harcourt, which are the three major population and economic centres in Nigeria."

Speaking further on trans-border interference, the NBC boss said the situation has been a major issue in West Africa; hence the commission is rolling out in a way that would not affect other countries. He downplayed the challenge, stressing: "Nigeria is far ahead of its neighbouring countries in the rollout of DSO."

A telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, commended the NBC for the feat but regretted: "Nigeria is slow in everything. You can imagine when we agreed to switch over - 10 years ago! I think, besides corruption, the major challenge is the lack of political will. Count the number of governments we have had since 2006. We have had Obasanjo, the late Yar'Adua, Jonathan, and now Buhari. We are just not serious as a country. The handlers of the country are insensitive. They prefer to spend billions on frivolities. If through digital mapping we get it right, this time, that's good. But let's just move and not stagnate again."

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