What can African countries in general and Nigeria in particular, do to meet up with the Digital Switch-Over?
As you know, digital migration is something that has been around for more than a decade. I remember I did my first workshop on digital migration where we started discussing with private companies as well as governments, how satellite and terrestrial infrastructure can be combined to achieve a smoother, more cost effective transmission based on some experiences that we had from other regions of the world. We are here ten years later; we still face some challenges on digital migration especially in Africa and some parts of the America. We haven’t made too much progress; most of the digital migration initiatives that we see on the continent are driven by private companies like Startimes, Multichoice etc. but overall, the continent is still far behind the target. Africa is far behind and Eutelsat is very experienced in spotting government as well as private companies in rollout on digital migration in the continent, we have a lot of experience to help and to foster digital migration.
What can African countries do to meet the deadline on digital migration this time around?
I think at the end of the day African countries have to think about the combination of infrastructure; there are countries in Africa that are thinking about it already.
If you combine infrastructures, terrestrial, mobile, satellite, you can be faster in achieving the objectives of digital migration. Also, it will reach everyone in the country which is also one of the objectives. When you switch off TV signals, you have to make sure that not only essential population receive TV programmes, because terrestrial networks haven’t been put in place. To sum it, I think if countries focus on combining different infrastructures, digital migration can be achieved faster and in cost effective way.
Beyond the infrastructures, most African countries blame lack of funding and regulation as two key factors dragging them behind. How can they overcome these?
I agree again that digital migration is a very costly exercise because the networks need to be operated. I think every country has its budget for different projects and I believe that the budget of the country can be used in a different way instead of trying to operate terrestrial infrastructure only which is just a costly phase. I believe that by combining infrastructures, it saves them a lot of money and allows them to rollout a bit faster.
On the other hand, when you talk about regulating issues, I also don’t believe that this is the main reason why digital migration has been put back in the African continent.
With your vast experience travelling around Africa and meeting with regulators and governments, why have African governments failed to combine both satellite and terrestrial?
We have to look at it region by region because there are African countries governments that are using satellite already. Private companies start with digital terrestrial. Look at Startimes for example; they have been here for a while. It is a private initiative but they also get funding from the government. In Africa, private companies started first; whereas in Europe, the government started first then private companies compliment them.
The question is: how do we close the remaining gap? Because in all the markets where the private companies are active on the terrestrial side, you don’t have 100 percent coverage. Startimes, Multichoice and others have dual offer; they offer both digital and satellite. By having these two offers, they guarantee for themselves that anyone in the country can receive an offer from Startimes, Multichoice etc. because its either you are on satellite or on terrestrial and whichever one you are, you can choose between one of the two. But, these offers very often lack national channels. In addition to that, it is always a paid-for service (channels only) which in most cases is not in the interest of the government because public TV is expected to be viewed for free. The remaining gap to be covered is how to provide the people that are enjoying the national, private and public channels in that country without paying for it; that needs to be solved.
What is the average duration for complete digital switch-over?
It depends really on the size of the country, how quickly you can upgrade the networks and then switch over. For example, it took 6 years in Italy, 5 years in Germany; I would say it depends on the country size and its geographical challenges, but between one to five year or thereabout, it should be completed. There are countries in Europe which are small in size; it took them only six months. A country like Nigeria which is huge can take years.
With your experience in Kenya, Zimbabwe and so on what are the challenges for broadcast operators who will need to migrate their own analogue infrastructures to digital?
I guess if you look at the opportunities, it will allow channels that are only regional to become nationwide. Also, thinking about advertising revenue, there is more competition among the channels, as revenue will increase because smaller channels which do not have access to the revenue will now have access to it.
I would say there are opportunities and challenges that digital migration will bring. Nigeria is one of the countries in Africa with a lot of channels; there aren’t many markets across Africa and digital migration allows these channels to operate across nations.
How much can African countries like Nigeria save by adopting satellite for DSO projects?
I don’t know how much the Nigerian government has planned to spend for acquiring terrestrial networks so it is a difficult question for me to answer. I could only make assumptions which I don’t want to do. Again, maybe if you have more insights on the costs of Nigeria operating the terrestrial’s network, I can give you a rough idea about cost.
Do you actually have some interface for the Nigerian digital switch-over project, especially with the government?
We know stakeholders in Nigeria and we know the landscape.
In what areas can you play a major role going forward to see that Nigeria actually meets its DSO deadline?
First of all, we need to be actively involved in the DSO process in Nigeria and we know the players. If there is any interest of the stakeholders of Nigeria to work with us, we are open to have discussions with them. Certainly, we can share our experience from other countries; we can consider how to help Nigeria in the different processes.
Post digital switch-over, what are the opportunities available for the public?
The opportunities of digital migration include availability of new contents, better sound quality, and new contents production, as digitization process brings more contents.
What are the opportunities available for the telecom companies that will likely make use of the digital spectrum?
First of all, I’m not sure if the entire satellite spectrum will be allocated to the telcos after the digital migration. The telcos will get their share but again it depends on country by country basis. How much spectrum will be allocated to the telcos or to other areas like broadcasting? I guess when you talk about telcos, one opportunity that it brings is that we hopefully get better, more reliable data quality which is still one of the big challenges we face all across Africa. Mobile operators will use the spectrum to improve on availability of quality data. But again, even if it is allocated to the telecom operators, the operators may still have to decide how they will use this. But, the opportunity is to increase the quality of data.
What’s your advice for stakeholders in Africa especially Nigeria to meet up with the DSO deadline?
My advice would be: think about combining infrastructures; use the facilities that different infrastructures have, combine infrastructures and use the best of infrastructures because this will help you to achieve digital migration within the time frame at reasonable cost. In addition to that, you will reach everyone in your country.