Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Botswana’s digital broadcasting migration roadmap ÔÇô correcting the misinformation

A disturbing amount of misinformation has been fed our nation and the world regrettably by some of our own media as a country, about the Digital (terrestrial) Television Broadcasting migration (DTT) process being undertaken by Botswana. Some of our broadsheets have taken a liking to unsafe speculation, wild assumptions and downright lies about the DTT process and the future of television in Botswana in the wake of the digital transformation. Media colleagues are divining a technological catastrophe for Botswana and they have reduced the issues that shape the DTT programme to the one thing that is not a problem, the choice of a technical standard, in the process wasting valuable time and opportunity to project Botswana’s pioneering choice as one that potentially sets the country on a course for economic and social advancement with respect to investment and job opportunities that digital television has to offer. This is a real pity, because elsewhere around the world including in the SADC region, Botswana’s choice of the Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting ÔÇô Terrestrial (ISDB-T) for digital television, has been met with eager interest in, and for, lessons that might be learnt from the process and socio-economic considerations by which Botswana made its choice.

This is both by countries that have made a different choice to Botswana, and those that are yet to pronounce their choices. You may ask why countries that have already chosen differently to Botswana would care what Botswana does! Well they do as a matter of fact, and this is why some of our neighbouring states were invited to and attende the launch of Botswana’s take-off of digital television broadcasting that was held in Gaborone on July 29th 2013. Some that could not make it to the launch ceremony have since indicated their interest to visit us for knowledge exchange and we are certainly engaging here at home and abroad for mutual benefit.

We also have lessons to learn from other countries regardless of what standard of DTT they have adopted. This article seeks to correct the gross and alarmist misinformation recently carried by some of our media houses, regarding Botswana’s DTT programme. In the said media reports, much is made of some conference in Dubai where it would appear that Botswana’s DTT programme was the centrepiece of debate. So-called experts are alleged to have disparaged Botswana’s choice of the ISDB-T technical standard developed in Japan and deployed in nearly all of South America and parts of South East and Central Asia. The offending media have further claimed that Botswana ignored expertise advice regarding the efficacy of choosing the ISDB-T standard over what is essentially a work-in-progress second generation technology – Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial Two – DVB-T2 developed in Europe and deployed in most of Africa. The world knows that the experts referred to simply did what they were obliged to do for their host organisation in Dubai, attack the opposition.

We also know that the said organisation trades in the high-end pay television market and now seeks to enter the free-to-air terrestrial television market and to capture the African continent, Botswana included, as much as possible. For the DVBT-2 technology sales quite obviously the choice of an opposite technical standard by a lucrative and ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) maturing economy has to be an irritating spoilage of the so called economies of scale in the business of set top boxes and related consumables. It is not surprising therefore that some organisations or persons with vested interests in the DVB-T2 technology, will have nothing positive, let alone accurate, to say about Botswana’s choice of a standard of technology that is in competition to that which they have chosen. For the record, as far as television broadcasting is concernd, Botswana respects the decision of other countries to deliver digital television to their markets via technical standards different to ISDB-T. We continue to work with several manufacturers and suppliers of television systems and equipment all over the world where necessary irrespective of differences in aspects of technologies and this is working perfectly well.

About Botswana specifically, let it be known forthwith that there is absolutely no cause for alarm, panic and/or fear for the future of transmission and reception of digital television originating in Botswana as a result of the (ISDB-T) technology that Botswana is deploying. The view that Botswana’s choice of ISDB-T was “a misunderstanding” is itself a misunderstanding if not sheer ignorance about digital television technologies. Botswana conducted comparative assessment tests of two of the available choices being ISDB-T and DVB-T2 digital television standards, in order to inform itself of the standard best suited to the needs of the country while also being affordable to Botswana’s economy.

Of course there are a lot more important considerations to factor in here beyond the choice of a standard. These include compliance with the DTT administrative requirements as set by the
International Telecommunications Union (ITU) with respect to the provisions of the 2006 Geneva Conference (GEO6) on DTT standards and zoning; regulatory aspects with respect to frequency coordination and harmonisation with neighbours, country transmission readiness, content generation to fill the multi-channel environment that digital television allows, and public education in order to create a supportive environment for television viewers, and equipment suppliers among others.

The following few general facts should provide comfort that Botswana’s transition from analogue to digital television broadcasting on the ISDB-T platform is on course and has reasonable chances for success to the extent that all stakeholders in government and the private sector collaborate for the good of the country. To this end Botswana Television and E-Botswana being the only television stations in the country so far, are cooperating in as far as exchange of knowledge and understanding of the requirements is concerned. Botswana has benchmarked the best practises of those that are ahead of us in this venture and we are comfortable that our digital migration roadmap is reasonable.

Work is in progress to set up a national administrative structure led by government, including seeking the means of finance required for this project. This is the structure that sets everything in motion. More specifically, Botswana has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Japan for technical and other collaboration on digital television broadcasting, as is the case with many other collaborating organisations in television broadcasting in Botswana, many of whom are from Europe. To this end training is being conducted in Gaborone on Data Broadcasting for Botswana Television. The training is provided also for non-governmental organisations and businesses that trade in television broadcasting in Botswana. Botswana’s terrestrial transmission network is digital-ready, requiring only (software) modification of ‘exciters’ for compatibility to ISDB-T. The same modification would have been required even if we had gone the route of DVB-T because the second generation regime, T2 requires the same compatibility modification for digital transmission. The transmitters presently used in Botswana and which will deliver digital television were not bought in Japan. They are European and American and they will work in any technical standard as long as the necessary modifications are made in step with new and emerging technologies.

Therefore the notion of hypnosis from Japan is ridiculous. There is much more trivia that continues to appear in our media regarding Botswana’s DTT roadmap, for example the notion of cost to the consumer and elevated power requirements being peculiar to ISDB-T. Transmission power requirement has got nothing to do with a technical standard, but rather the choice a broadcaster makes with regard to the extent of coverage it wants. That is largely what determines the cost of transmission power, not a technical standard. The power module of the exciter-modified transmitters (software modification) is going to remain the same for the most part. The benefit here is that we will be able to deliver wider coverage or reception of digital television from the same transmitter power but at no additional cost to the viewer. As far as we know the cost to television consumers is going to be mainly the purchasing of type-approved (by regulating authoring) receiving equipment on the home end, the main one being an ISDB-T compatible set-top-box or decoder. In the current analogue transmission viewers do not require a set-top-box to receive television signals.

That is why at present you only need a roof-top or indoor aerial to receive Botswana Television terrestrially. In the digital environment on the other hand a decoder is required to receive and convert the digital signal into picture on any functional television set. This requirement again will be there regardless of what technical standard a country chooses. One of the factors that will determine the pricing of receiving equipment will naturally be the business models that manufacturers and related investors employ, the same considerations that will shape the extent to which businesses achieve economies of scale. This is simple economics. It has nothing to do with a technical standard. Finally, Botswana has already started ISDB-T television broadcasting trials in February 2013 in Gaborone, and Francistown in August 2013, and of course a national education campaign is now work-in-progress to enable viewers of television originating in Botswana to ready themselves for DTT. This means that participating persons with ISDB-T compatible receiving equipment can watch digital television as if we have already switched over. The two ISDB-T enabled transmitters on which the trials are being broadcast operate on 8MHz channel spacing and are capable of transmitting in DVB-T2, ISDB-T and in analogue standard, an important parameter when transition reaches the time for dual illumination. In this regard Botswana is fully compliant with Article 5.1.3 of the GEO6 Agreement, which is the technical specification assigned by the ITU to Region One of the DTT world, comprising Africa and Europe. The 8MHz chip-set required in the ISDB-T decoder is not to be manufactured for the Botswana market only. It is for the ISDB-T market the world over, and yes at this point in time Botswana may be the only country in Africa that has chosen ISDB-T.

But so what? What stops us from pioneering new ground for our economy, and identifying growth opportunities that come with mega technological developments? In Europe, to draw a comparative analogy, the United Kingdom never joined the Euro but maintained successful trade links with its European neighbours and far afield. There was nothing to foretell that the Euro would one day, despite it being a common currency for a large common market, go into the kind of crisis it has recently gone into. We hope that this article has provided some helpful insights into the issues that have been misrepresented in Botswana about the country’s road-map to Digital Broadcasting Migration.

*Kaboeamodimo is DPS Information and Broadcasting, State President.

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