The pace of transition to digital broadcasting around the country by 2015 is picking up with national broadcasting corporation (ORINFOR) set to switch its operations from traditional analog broadcasting to digital broadcasting this year.
The transition deadline of 2015 from analog to digital Broadcasting was agreed upon by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) members in 2006 during ITU’s Regional Radio communication Conference in Gevena.
According to Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), which is spearheading the transition process, the national broadcaster, Rwanda Television (TVR) which will be the digital transmitter is in the process of piloting transmissions of digital signals by end of 2010.
The digital TV pilot viewing around the country will end analogue signals by December 2012, which is only two years away, a deadline that has been agreed under the East African Communication Organization (EACO), the region’s forum of regulators.
“As a country we are planning to have the 2012 as switchover date so that we identify some places which are not well covered to fill the whole country before the international switchover date of June 2015,” a RURA official told Business Times in an interview recently.
Aside from providing better picture and sound quality, the switchover to digital broadcasting comes with a wide range of benefits to the consumers and operators.
For consumers the benefits from digital television include a wider choice of programmes from a greater number of channels and lower sale prices for digital receivers.
These advantages stem from the fact that it possible to process and compress digital data in a more efficient manner than was the case for analogue signals.
For operators, the switch over is expected to the lower costs of transmission in future and freeing up additional frequencies. The transition to digital broadcasting will be easier given the low penetration of television services around the country.
“We only have TV Rwanda as free to air TV in the country, so for us the switch off of Analog is not going to be a big issue. Apart from Kigali where we have some few households having television in other parts of the country, the television penetration is quite low,” he said.
RURA has also undertaken a study to ascertain the current percentage of television penetration around the country to facilitate the migration process.
RURA expects that by the end 2010, ORINFOR would be ready with infrastructure up and running.
In a parallel interview Kije Mugisha the project manager of the modernization of ORINFOR confirmed the developments saying the process of digitalizing the national broadcaster is in advanced stages.
“The technology has actually been tested and the testing has been positive. The launch will definitely be for 2010. We should be confident in saying it will be available to the public,” she reaffirmed.
This week an evaluation team will meet to choose a company that will be in charge of constructing the new home for ORINFOR including installing the required new technology.
“What is very important is that digitalization of Rwanda and the national media is right now the single project in our vision -that upon completion will put us at the forefront of digital broadcasting in our region,” Mugisha said.
She also mentioned that the operations of ORINFOR including the 3 main media (Radio, TVR, Imvaho Nshya (Kinyarwanda newspaper) will be completely be digital 100 percent.
“Some countries are using digital equipment with analog satellite that is not digital! Completely digital means from your signal, Television set to tape - that is exactly where we are going to be this year,” she added.
To facilitate the process of migration around the country, RURA in collaboration with other stakeholders has since 2008 rolled out awareness campaigns with stakeholders.
RURA said raising awareness is critical, as come 2012 television broadcasting on both “Free on Air” and Pay Television will be strictly digital.
This means anybody with an analog television set will have buy a set top box which receives digital signals to enable digital viewing. Currently the cost of set top box is in the range of $100-150 (Rwf57,000-Rwf80,000).
“The process does not require the public to buy new televisions, you can buy a digital television but there another way of watching using your analog television- you will have to buy a set top box, this box will receive digital signal and convert it into analog so that you can use your analog television,” the RURA official explained.
However RURA says EAC is negotiating as a region to come out with the modalities to bring in the set top boxes at more affordable prices.
While some countries plan to have a simulcast that allows duo broadcasting (both analog and digital), RURA said the country has planned to switch on directly to digital given the low television penetration.
The regulator is also in the process of vetting signal distributors and content providers in preparation for the digital age.
“Every new comer now in the TV Broadcasting business has to be digital so that the people concentrate on their core in business following the new value chain composed of content providers, Signal distributors (Multplexers) and viewers.
This is the best way to develop the sector,”
The transition to digital is also expected to stimulate development of the broadcasting sector by creating competition.
“We want more broadcasters on free to air – we want to make sure that the sector is developed, that the service that reaches the viewers is good, so who ever wants to play any role should apply to RURA.”
RURA is targeting more broadcasters on “Free To air” in order to increase television viewers across the country.
Currently the country has one “Free To air” television broadcaster (RTV) and 2 Pay T.Vs (Star Media and DSTV).