NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
A NEW era has emerged in Zambia marking an official shift from the analogue to the digital age.
This is a process that was started in phases and which Zambia was obliged to carry out after the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations Agency, set 17th June, 2015 as the deadline for countries to switch over from Analogue to Digital Television Broadcasting. The migration is therefore a global agreement.
Analogue terrestrial television has been in existence since the 1940 but was rendered obsolete due to advancement in technology and its inefficient use of the frequency spectrum which is a limited resource.
Analogue Terrestrial Television is said to use one frequency to carry one programme channel while Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) can use one frequency to carry multiple programme channels. What this means is that Digital Terrestrial Television allows for transmission of many television programmes using one frequency channel and at lower cost.
For countries like Zambia, DTT has been proved as a practical digital technology for digital migration in Africa. Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have achieved their migration basing on the DTT technology.
So what is Digital Broadcasting Migration? It is generally a process in which broadcasting services offered on the traditional analogue technology are replaced with digital networks over a specific period. The transition or switch from analogue television to digital television is referred to as the Digital Migration.
The Zambian government set October 1, 2017 as the date for a complete switchover to digital broadcasting from analogue television services along the line of rail.
Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Kampamba Mulenga previously announced that all towns along the line of rail from Chililabombwe in the Copperbelt to Livingstone will completely migrate to digital broadcasting by the October deadline.
“As a country, we are more than ready to make the switch,” Ms Kampamba shared recently. “This is an assurance we are giving that we are on track.”
DTT is able to reduce the use of spectrum, provides more capacity for transmitting more channels and much better quality picture, which means more local and international channels will be offered to customers comparing with the analogue signals.
TopStar Communication Company Limited is a public signal distributor and Zambia’s official digital migration agent.
Those in possession of TopStar decoders will have the chance to access the digital signal using the decoders.
According to TopStar, “The DTT model of digital migration in Zambia can create huge job opportunities and economic growth. The PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model brings in capital, technology, management skills, talents, and training and cultivates a new industry, which involves realising national digitalisation on schedule, creating job opportunities and contributing to economic growth.”
The migration has also so far created jobs in the dealer network, for instance, with over 70 TopStar dealers located in ten towns and cities where the company has signal.
Zambia’s Digital Migration Policy sets the guidelines of migrating the broadcasting sector from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting. The policy was based on a consultative process involving major shareholders.
According to the policy, the introduction of television broadcasting services in Zambia started in 1961 on the Copperbelt Province targeted at the mining expatriates only. Later in 1965, it was extended to Lusaka and coverage has been expanding ever since to about 80 percent of the country’s population in 2012.
The policy further notes that until the early 1990s when the broadcasting sector was liberalised, broadcasting services were a sole monopoly of the Government. However, following liberalisation policy, there has been tremendous growth and development in the country’s broadcasting sub-sector.
In line with the migration agenda, Ms Mulenga had directed the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to quickly facilitate the transition of its licences to digital broadcasting platforms.
The minister has also urged people who have not yet purchased the TopStar decoders to do so and hopes that by mid next year, the whole country would have migrated.
“This migration is a huge step for us as a country that has been able to meet international requirements and one of the benefits of the migration is the jobs it will create,” Ms Mulenga said.
With the migration will come an increase in channels offering local content, giving a platform to local producers, directors, actors and various other players in the TV industry?
The digital migration further means that as of October 1, 2017, local viewers will now be charged subscription based on the preferred TV bouquets per household.
A number of sensitisation programmes have been carried out to announce the migration and what it means but some locals still seem to be in the dark about it.
In addition, earlier in the year, the government procured a loan of US$273 million from China for the implementation of phase two of the Digital Migration programme.
In July this year, Ms Mulenga issued a statement explaining that the works under phase two are comprehensive as the project encompasses the entire length and breadth of the country.
Under phase two, the civil works component of the contract entailed construction of six Television studios at all provincial centres namely: Kasama (Northern Province), Chinsali (Muchinga Province), Mongu (Western Province), Kabwe (Central Province), Mansa (Luapula Province) and Chipata (Eastern Province).
The statement further explained that Choma and Solwezi studios are being funded outside the US$273 million loan arrangement.
Aside from transmission and other attendant equipment being installed at the six provincial centres, there are also subsidiary transmission sites at 64 sites where small transmitters have been erected to ensure total coverage of the entire country.
Areas where the landscape cannot allow for digital terrestrial television transmission, these areas will be served by satellite.