Lack of spectrum sharing slowing digital TV in Africa

Posted on July 27, 2015 12:58 am

African countries quest to improve broadband service and introduce digital television is proving nettlesome, as telecommunications operators and broadcasters are showing signs of an unwillingness to share spectrum.An insider of a telecom company in East Africa recently told your blogger that his employer needed more spectrum, given that the channels allotted them have hit full capacity.His employer currently provides voice, text and data services through two channels allocated to it by the government. However, with millions of subscribers consuming an increasing amount of data, the teleoperator has repeatedly joined its competitors that they needed more spectrum to expand fourth generation service.Telecoms in Africa need more spectrum because they have a large number of customers to serve.Tele operators are keen on occupying the 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum, which would allow their towers to provide 3G coverage for a 5-kilometer radius.On the other hand, the 2,100 MHz spectrum, access to which some African governments plans to auction off, can only cover a radius of 3 kilometers.Tele operators would like to provide the widest coverage so that they can provide as much service to customers as possible, especially those who are living in remote areas.The 700 MHz spectrum is currently used by television stations for analog broadcasts as more than 30 African countries failed to meet the international deadline for analogue television switch off.

Telecommunications operators want to be assigned different part of the spectrum to broadcasters so they can expand 3G and 4G service.African countries communication regulators have previously announced plans to rearrange the spectrum allotted to television broadcasters, requiring them to upgrade from analog to digital, which requires a smaller section of the spectrum.The leftover spectrum could then be auctioned off to telecommunication operators for Long Term Evolution (LTE) telecommunications, which many operators have said was best suited for data-hungry customers.Television broadcasters, however, have been reticent to go digital, citing costs as witnessed with Kenya’s acrimonious digital broadcasting migration.From an informed point of view, television network faces many issues in going digital, foremost being a potential decline in their number of viewers, who would have to purchase decoders to use their older existing analog television sets to receive digital broadcasts.Not a single African country government that has come up with a plan on how to get people to accept digital television without subsidizing or paying for decoders.According to a Kenya television market researcher I recently spoke to, network’s viewer numbers for KTN, Citizen Tv and NTV Kenya declined when people balked in buying the decoders, which typically cost from US$40 to $80.This meant that Kenyans would not have any viewers to watch broadcasts. Advertisers have not found television channels attractive as they’ve few viewers, and this has affected revenues.

According to another source,television stations that have made a considerable investment in analog broadcast technology would have to allocate funds for new equipment to produce broadcasts.However the smaller stations that have invested in analog will face difficulties to survive.The government and telecommunications operators in Africa must support the shift to digital broadcasts by subsidizing and distributing decoders, among other things.Those who would benefit from this should make a contribution, and in this case, am referring to telecommunication operators.The migration to digital broadcasts to provide space for operators was “a win-win scenario”.Digitalization would allow the same amount of the broadcast spectrum to be divided among more digital broadcasters, leading to a proliferation of new stations. The proliferation of stations would open opportunities for production houses, advertisers and the like to create content for these stations. Operators, too, would benefit,as they would divide the spectrum currently allocated for analog television broadcasts to expand their 3G and 4G services.Therefore, both the government and operators should help broadcasters, especially in the provision of decoders, to facilitate the switch over,in Contador Harrison’s view.Either the government or private sector would need to provide television decoders for millions of televisions across Africa, preferably through subsidies.That’s why broadcasters, operators and the government have to sit down together to find solutions for everyone’s concerns.

Contador Harrison