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China to support Africa in digital migration drive

By Taddeo Bwambale

Added 1st July 2016 08:37 AM

Most African countries are at the still pilot phase while some are yet to even start

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Most African countries are at the still pilot phase while some are yet to even start

African countries are turning to China for funding and technology support for the continent’s digital migration that has been much slower compared the rest of the world. 

A year since the June 2015 global target set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), only five out of 54 African countries have switched from analogue to digital transmission. 

Experts say the slow shift from analogue to digital migration presents a potent ‘threat’ to the continent’s development and security. 

During the China-Africa Media Cooperation Forum held in China’s capital, Beijing, it emerged that most African countries are at the still pilot phase while some are yet to even start. 

Digital terrestrial transmission involves the use of new technology to create an efficient system to compress signals, helping to free up space for more channels to be broadcast. 

The benefits of digital TV include: better picture quality, more choice for TV programmes and services and opportunities for local content programming. 

Digital TV also allows for parental controls on programmes received and viewed, sharing infrastructure-using the signal distributor’s masts, and opportunities for promoting local content. 

Mauritius, Botswana, Tanzania and Rwanda are the first African countries to have fully switched over from analogue to digital transmission. 

With hurdles pertaining to the rollout of digital television, Africa’s two largest economies, South Africa and Nigeria have since negotiated with ITU for a late 2017 deadlines for switch-over. 

Uganda switched off analogue transmission in Kampala in June 2015 and the exercise is being rolled out to other parts of the country in phases. 

Kampala, Jinja, Masaka and Mbarara have so far been covered and at least 17 sites will be covered by the end of the year, giving Uganda 70% coverage by the end of the year. 

Digital divide 

Most countries in Europe, Asia and America have shifted to digital transmission but at least 100 million households in Africa don’t even have access to even analogue TV. 

African Union Commission deputy chairperson, Erastus Mwencha warned at the meeting that Africa risks being a ‘faceless continent’ of mere consumers and victims of ‘digital colonisation.’ 

During the 6th African Digital TV Development Seminar also held in Beijing, ministers, public broadcasters and media experts from 45 African states sought more than lessons from China. 

One of the biggest hurdles in the migration process is the cost of set-top boxes to receive digital TV signals, with set top boxes at $20 (with monthly charge), free-to-air ($50), digital TV ($300).

Jiang Jianguo, China’s minister of the State Council Information Office said China was willing to support Africa’s digital migration process and share its experience in digital transmission. 

Last year, China pledged to support 10,000 African villages to have access to satellite TV, helping people in remote areas to acquire knowledge, information and entertainment through digital TV. 

Much of China’s support for the digital migration will be through Chinese technology firms investing in Africa with the backing of a $10b China-Africa Development Fund. 

One of the firms is StarTimes, whose founder and president, Pang Xingxing, pioneered a low cost model of digital migration in Africa by introducing cheaper set top boxes. 

To-date, his firm boasts of 90% market share with over 8 million subscribers. Xingxing says the biggest hurdle in the continent’s migration process is the lack of capital to roll out the exercise. 

“You cannot digitise without capital. The transition process is capital-intensive,” Xingxing said, also warning that the importation of analogue TV sets is stalling the digital migration process.

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