• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Telcos concerned as funding, regulation threaten Digital Migration

Telcommunication companies in Nigeria are concerned about the huge uncertainties trailing the country’s digital migration process, as a series of bottlenecks, including paucity of funds, regulation, unrealistic timelines, and low awareness amongst the populace, seem set to frustrate the intiative.

Digital Broadcasting Migration (DBM) is a process in which broadcasting services offered on traditional analogue technology are replaced with digital based networks over a specific period.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had set June 2015 as deadline for digital migration globally. Industry experts are of the view that digital migration will allow television viewers enjoy improved picture and sound quality.

It would also enable broadcasters offer several channels of programming in spectrum that previously was only able to transmit a single analogue channel.

This palpable fear amongsts telecommunications companies stems from expectations that migration to digital broadcasting would free-up requisite frequency spectrum resources for the deployment of efficient and affordable broadband services across Nigeria.

It is expected that this would position the telcos to deploy greater internet bandwidth across the board and generate greater revenues from that resource as voice revenues continue to dwindle.

Revenues from voice services in the telecom sector are declining due to regulatory and competitive pressures. Market observers say telcos see broadband services as the next revenue stream.

“We need to accelerate this process by putting things in motion. We have to take those television stations off those spectrums to enable operators use the spectrum for broadband deployment”, said Ejovi Aror, chief executive officer, ipNX Nigeria Limited, a leading broadband service provider.

“I am yet to see activities geared towards meeting the June deadline. I would have expected that by now some sensitisation activities would be on-going. I think it is going be tough meeting that deadline”, said Aror, in an interview.

According to statistics from the ITU, of Nigeria’s 45 million Internet users, the highest online population in Africa, only a meagre 14.5 million are registered internet subscribers. In addition, internet-to-home penetration is 4.6 percent and broadband penetration is at an abysmal 6 percent.

The bulk of Nigeria’s population, particularly those in rural communities, will remain disconnected from the global internet landscape if the country fails to migrate to digital broadcasting.

Industry watchers say this is worrisome because broadband facilitates e-commerce, e-education, e-health, e-entertainment and e-government and promises to improve governance, create new business opportunities and raise the quality and penetration of education.

In view of the current situation, the telecoms industry in the country is poised for 4G deployment on LTE (Long Term Evolution).

Fourth Generation LTE is the most advanced and most flexible global technological standard for wireless data communications.

Temi Ogunbambi, director, engineering, Etisalat Nigeria, said, in an interview, “We are very keen on rolling out 4G/LTE service as the opportunities are enormous. We have designs for conducting LTE trials. The biggest hurdle to overcome is spectrum availability.”

Speaking in the same vein, Osondu Nwokoro, director, regulatory affairs and special projects, Airtel Nigeria, said the telecoms industry is constrained by spectrum unavailability. “The 700MHz Digital Dividend band and 2.6 GHz which are acclaimed by the ITU as most suitable for LTE deployment in sparsely populated (rural) and densely populated (urban) areas respectively, are not currently available for use as they are being deployed for broadcast services by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)”, Nwokoro added.

According to him, Nigeria had not met the recommended Analogue-to-Digital Broadcast Switchover in 2012, which is depriving the nation of the opportunity of making the 700 MHz band available for mobile broadband.

  Russell Southwood, chief executive officer, Balancing Act, is pessimistic about Nigeria’s chances of meeting the June deadline.“Even if Nigeria has all the strategies and funding to switch from the analogue to the DTT, which is not possible, the deadline can never be met”, he said.

Many African nations had embarked on the analogue switch over, “it took Mauritius, a very smaller population compared to Nigeria eight years to achieve the DTT migration and Nigeria is a vast country with a lot of challenges”, he explained.

A recent declaration by Emeka Mba,  the director-general of the NBC, reinforces concerns that Nigeria may not meet the deadline.

Speaking at a recent forum in Lagos, Mba declared plainly that the Commission did not have enough funds to execute the digital switch over. Despite the gloomy picture and the uncertainty pervading the air, the country appears to be making progress in some areas.

In June, the country launched the first phase of the digital switchover in Jos, Plateau State. The NBC is working hard to complete other phases on or before January 1, 2015.

Ben Uzor