• 130 million pumped into digital migration
Despite failure by some countries to go digital, Botswana is on tack to meet the June deadline for switching from analogue to digital broadcasting completely. According to Department of Broadcasting services, they are not just hoping to go digital by June as per the requirement by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), but the services will be brought to Batswana.
Currently Botswana has been using analogue signals, which requires a large amount of bandwidth to transmit the picture and sound information. With digital this can be carried easily since it requires much less bandwidth which then results in brighter, sharper picture and much better sound quality. Deputy Permanent Secretary at Information and Broadcasting services Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo said they are set to transform television viewing in Botswana. The motion for going digital was discussed in 2000 by the international body and after a few years the deadline of 2015 was set in order for the world to switch to digital.
Discussing the benefits of going digital Kaboeamodimo said there will be much choice because digital signals take up much less bandwidth thus giving the potential of many channels to choose. He said there are enabled services of e-government, education, youth and women that could not normally be seen on analogue. On what exactly it means by going digital, Kaboeamodimo said that it only means analogue will not be protected come June 2015. He said that as they switch they will be doing that in a phased manner to make sure that everything goes according to plan. Botswana held a digital migration workshop in 2012 in which the then Minister of Transport and Communications Nonofo Molefhi encouraged Batswana to embrace the digital switch over exercise when he highlighted that the chosen standard by Botswana government, the Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial (ISDB-T) applies to both public and private broadcasters. That was when the government adopted the (ISDB-T) as its appropriate Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) standard as part of the digital migration process. The ISDB-T system’s hierarchical mode of operation is said to allow for the simultaneous transmission to fixed, mobile and portable receivers from a single transmitter. It also allows for the provision of direct transmission to Batswana through multiple hand held devices, including cell phones as well as traditional receivers.
Kaboeamodimo said this presents Botswana with both economic and social benefits. He said on the 15th of April the task force and senior government officials will meet in order to review the project alongside experts. Kaboeamodimo and his team were not in the position to give as to how much it will costs households when they switch to digital. He rather said just like mobile services or television sets where there are different packages according to price and quality, so are the digital set boxes. He said the price will depend on what the consumer will prefer, and as such there cannot be a specific price as to how much it will cost a household. “Digital offers much advancement, and people should know and understand that there won’t be any changes in signals and there won’t even be the need to buy new handsets,” he said.
On where Botswana is with the progress, Kaboeamodimo said they are at a stage where they are upgrading the studio equipment in preparation for CH 2, replacing encoders, modulators and amplifiers, installing ISDB-T transmitters. He said the final stage will be that of TV owners purchasing the digital set top boxes or new integrated TV and digital ready TV aerial. He said that it is important for Batswana to understand that they will not have any TV signal when the analogue TV is switched off if they do not have digital set top boxes by the time of the switch over. He said that training on data broadcasting for various stakeholders have been completed; in order to give Batswana updated information all the time so that they can read on weather, traffic, government programs and many others. At the moment transmission equipment is also said to be on functionality tests at factory before being delivered to Botswana by end of May 2015.
On why they have isolated themselves from SADC by choosing ISDB-T and whether they are not going the wrong way, Kaboeamodimo said no because a standard is only a technical platform for delivering communications and all the ITU approved standards are capable of doing so. "The choice of the country depends on a country's priorities with respect to services it wants to offer," he said. He said the standard that Botswana chose offers services from fixed, mobile and hand held devices from one transmitter and therefore cost effective and maximum flexibility in terms of access to services. He said this has resulted in their success other than countries who have not even started and are contemplating approaching the ITU over the 2015 deadline. Botswana is using the ISDB-T that originated in Japan, in which Digital Migration Public Relations officer for Japan Keiko Uchiumi assured that indeed everything is going on well, and promises that yes Botswana will be switching over this June.
BOCRA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Thari Pheko affirmed that Batswana should be assured of quality. He said that though as BOCRA they do not regulate BTV because of it being a state media they have been working hand in hand with them and the neighbouring countries to make sure that everything goes on smoothly. He said as speculated by some there won’t be any disruptions to other television service providers like Multi Choice because they have been working with all the neighbouring countries and have agreed on the modality. He said that as Botswana they have taken the first step, and with that applauding the government of Botswana for going to be among the few that will totally switch to digital come June. “Botswana has taken a step further. We chose the right standard and even if we fail we would applaud ourselves for trying,” Thari said. The digital decoder and the antenna will be the only tools needed in order to access those services. The antenna can either be indoors or outdoors.
Batswana are called on to come on board and embrace the digital migration since it will benefit them more with live data broadcast that will keep them updated, and also not to feel left out since they will still use their old hunchback television sets. They revealed that they have already started the public education campaigns that will reach the whole country in order to prepare Batswana for this switch.