Digital migration has immense benefits for all – Rura official

Effective Friday midnight, all analogue television transmissions in the three districts of the City of Kigali and seven other districts went off air following the switch off of the analogue transmitters at Jali and Rebero mountains. 
People watching television. Rura begun analogue switch-off in phases on Friday. The New Times/ File.
People watching television. Rura begun analogue switch-off in phases on Friday. The New Times/ File.

Effective Friday midnight, all analogue television transmissions in the three districts of the City of Kigali and seven other districts went off air following the switch off of the analogue transmitters at Jali and Rebero mountains. Prior to the switch-off, there had been and awareness campaigns through various media platforms urging those relying on analogue transmission to acquire decoders. The New Times’ Collins Mwai talked to Eng. Jean Baptiste Mutabazi, the head of communications and media regulation department at Rwanda Utilities and regulatory Authority (Rura) for insights on the migration process. Excerpts;-

On Friday, January 31, the first phase of the migration started with the switch-off of analogue transmitter stations at Jali and Rebero, was there adequate awareness to the residents of this places?

We engaged various media and communication outlets to make the public aware of the migration process. We used several radio stations, television, press conferences with media practitioners, and bill boards.

On Wednesday, last week, Rwanda Broadcasting Agency had a pilot test where they switched off the analogue transmitters between 7pm and 8pm as part of awareness so that those who lose their signal would learn so in advance. So I think ample preparation was made in this regard.

Areas affected by the first switch off?

Other than the three districts in Kigali; Gasabo, Nyarugenge and Kicukiro, there is Muhanga, Rulindo, Kayonza, Kamonyi, Rwamagana, Bugesera and their surrounding regions.

Rura licensed set top distributors who met the set requirements to import and retail the boxes throughout the country. How was the licensing process carried out?

Rura had opened up the opportunity to willing set box distributors; four came forward and met the required technical specifications and we approved their importing and retailing.  We did not have a limit to the number of suppliers of the set top boxes.

Recently, we also approved a pay TV service provider who has since entered the market. All the suppliers have imported enough decoders or set top boxes to meet the market demands. Since we are doing it in phases, it leaves them time to import more.

For now we have enough decoders on the market to satisfy Kigali and the surrounding areas and before the two month deadline for the next switch off. The distributors have assured us that they will have imported more.

Do you have actual numbers of how many people have been affected?

In those regions involved in the first switch-off, we do not have actual numbers but by our projections they should not be more than 30,000 sets and we had more than 35,000 decoders in the market well enough before the switch off to ensure viewers had access to them.

Ensuring that we had enough decoders in the market prior to the switch off was important to us because carrying on the migration process without decoders in the market would inconvenience viewers.

There has been talk that substandard set top boxes have made their way into the market, any idea from where and how clients can stay vigilant?

The authorised distributors’ boxes are all standard and are approved by Rura. The sub-standard boxes could be from unauthorised distributors or people purporting to be authorised distributors.

To ensure that they do not end up with poor quality products or sub-standard ones, we urge them to only purchase from authorised distributors and retain the receipts on purchase. With that in case of any problems in future, it is easy and possible to follow up with the distributor with proof.

We also urge the distributors and members of the public to report any unauthorised vendors so that we can take necessary action and confiscate their products. The four authorised retailers are Sorim Ltd, Tele10 group, Star Times Media and Trans-Africa Container Transport Limited.

The decoders in retail should be DVB-T2 (Digital Video Broadcasting Technology 2).

Last week, there was the entrance of GOtv as a new player in pay-TV services into the Rwandan market, does that positively facilitate the migration?

It does because clients have more options when getting on a digital platform, they can choose from an option of a set top box or packages. The migration process was concerned with TV viewers who only received one channel.

Any benefits Rwandans can expect from the digital migration?

There are benefits for viewers, investors and content producers.

Viewers now have access to multiple channels for free (free to air channels) giving them options and the advantage of choice. They will also notice improvement in the quality of image and sound that the digital platform offers.

For investors, it is now easier and cheaper to put up their own TV stations since they will not have to put transmitter stations all over the country as they would have done previously. It will cut down on their investments and equipment costs.

They need not worry about network and transmission, one only has to put up a studio and obtain a license from the network host, Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA).  It is also easy for RBA to host them as the previous analogue platform could not hold as many channels as the new one.

It will be possible for them to generate more income from commercials and also stand a chance of being aired on Pay TV services which will mean more income.

There will be optimal utilisation of the transmission infrastructure since broadcasters would be concentrating on content production, leaving the development of digital infrastructure to the signal distributor which is RBA and there will also be a new distributor soon.

On the analogue transmission, only about eight channels could be hosted but with the digital platform, can host more than 20 TV channels which give viewers variety.

More investors putting up channels will also mean more opportunities for content producers and creative artists in the country.

Since each TV station will want to appeal to the viewers, they will be sourcing for content which will create opportunities for the youth in the industry who will also have options to choose which channels to work with and appropriate terms for them.

The process of digital migration is long overdue; it should have been done earlier, what held us back?

It could be that we were not entirely ready to go on with it. We had to ensure that there would be enough decoders in the market before beginning the process otherwise it would have been unfair to viewers. It was a task because the distributors had to import them before retailing which took time.

That is part of the reason we choose to have it done in phases to give them time to bring in more decoders before we get to the next phases.

There could also have been some financial issues with the distributors because it is also a high capital venture.

Most of the other countries currently undergoing digital migration are also doing it in phases, why this preference?

It is because it is affordable to do it in bits and also eases logistical challenges. Doing it at once would overwhelm the system for the suppliers, to the regulating authority and would probably be unfair to viewer.

It is also easier in that it gives the facilitators of the process time to monitor the success or failure of the previous phase f to plan for the next phases, by the time you get to the last phase, the process is smooth.

Phases reduce logistical challenges as not all viewers in the country can access set top boxes at the same time. 

For the next two months before the planned switch off, we shall engage in monitoring and evaluation of how we performed in the first phase.

Though we are aware of the benefits of ‘migrating’, how did it come about? Who initiated it?

Digital Migration was conceptualised by International Telecommunications Unit (ITU), to which Rwanda is a member. The aim was to free up Bandwidth that is to be used up for broad band applications.

Analogue transmission take up a lot of Bandwidth that would otherwise be used for broadband applications. After the complete analogue switch off which deadline is June 17, 2015, there will be a digital dividend freeing up bandwidth.

Is the necessary infrastructure in place for the digital platform?

Currently, all infrastructure is in place and we are still upgrading them. On analogue, there was coverage of about 40 per cent or 45 per cent because of the terrain, but with the digital platform the coverage percentage is more than 90 per cent.

By your light, is Rwanda successfully going to be able to get through with the migration process by July 31 as planned?

All is set for now. We are having the next switch off after 2 months on March 31 then another one two months later in May and the last one on July 31. We will be among the first countries in the region to go through with the process. 


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