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Digital Dialogue 2018 (Part 2): Digital Migration – switch off to switch on the economy

L to R: Gerhard Petrick , Gregory Bensberg, Michèle Coat and Peter Barnet

The Digital Dialogue Conference 2018 facilitated by MultiChoice concluded with a panel discussion offering first-hand insight into the successes and challenges associated with the transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting in Africa, ranging from international coordination, standardization, regulation, harmonization and the broader economics of spectrum management and digital migration.

The expert panel consisted of Gerhard Petrick, Deputy Chairperson of the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA), Michèle Coat, Radio Communication Engineer at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Peter Barnet, Chair of CM-WiB at Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) and Greg Bensbert, MBE, General Manager of Digital 3&4 at ITV.

The transition to DTT in South- and Southern Africa – has DTT delivered on what was promised? – Gerhard Petrick, SADIBA:

“Good progress has been made by selecting and implementing the most advanced and spectrum efficient technology for terrestrial broadcasting.  However, significant work remains in yielding the digital dividend, with only a few SADC countries having cleared the dividend bands”, Petrick offered in his opening remarks.

Furthermore, Petrick illustrated how network costs can typically be derived and stated that Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) cost per service should be substantially lower than analogue network costs.

From a consumer value proposition, Petrick confirmed that the digital networks offer better video quality and audio in the interest of the consumers, although most deployments are Standard Definition (SD) instead of High Definition (HD).

“There is still potential for more services to be accommodated for the networks that are currently on-air” he remarked.

The ITU’s view on the transition to digital broadcasting – Michèle Coat:

Coat stated that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) facilitated the planning of the migration to digital and the co-ordinating spectrum requirements.  This included a follow-up to the Geneva 2006 (GE-06) conference to plan the digitisation of broadcasting and associated frequency use for 119 countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia.

She confirmed that the remainder of the UHF band (470-694 MHz) is earmarked for broadcasting for the foreseeable future whilst the digital dividend (694-862 MHz) bands to be released in the switch-over from analogue to digital TV will play a critical role in delivering broadband wireless access.

A perspective on the transition to digital – Peter Barnett (DVB):

Barnett gave a review of new developments in DVB – the industry-led consortium of about 160 of the world’s leading digital TV and technology companies, drawn from broadcasters; telecommunications network operators; regulators and manufacturers who collectively draft the satellite system standards.

Peter also shared an update of the DVB including DVB-S2X which offers Extended SNR (C/N) range, Finer granularity from additional MODCODs, Additional roll-off values, Channel bonding. And will be available for DTH from early 2018. He also mentioned DVB-SIS – Single Illumination System- a cost efficient delivery of DVB broadcasts onto IP networks and will use 1 transponder to feed both terrestrial transmitters and DTH receivers. The new offering was originally developed for satellite, however, it can also handle terrestrial and cable formats. Also in the new development pipeline is DVB-I (terms of reference approved in Feb 2018) which is set to provide a user perception of a linear TV channel, discovered and consumed over the open internet. Further developments in this space include updates on RCS2 (Return Channel on Satellite); Satellite beam hopping; Low latency IP delivery, updates on Simulcrypt headend, Emergency Warning System, Targeted Advertising and more which are available on www.dvb.org/about/process for the full work plan.

The Broadcaster’s perspective – Gregory Bensberg, MBE (ITV):

Has the transition to digital been a success for broadcasters? And how did the transition to digital change the TV universe? Along with the questions, Bensberg also gave some insights from his digital migration work as a key technical and regulatory adviser to UK Government Ministers during the switch-over and future demands of technology changes.

Using the UK’s 2005 Analogue Switch-over (Digital Migration) as a case study, Peter shared that after migrating to digital, all public service channels in the UK became available to all viewers with more than 20 other new channels created, e.g. Sky News. The migrations also extend the channels’ reach with the government cost-benefit analysis (in 2005) revealing a net benefit of around £2bn to the UK.

Bensberg also shared his insights on how digital migration has allowed broadcast services to better compete with emerging platforms.

“The adoption of digital technology has dramatically changed the TV industry in all markets were it has been adopted. The initial response of the content owners to the threat posed by the internet was to revert to legal challenge, either through direct litigation (as in Napster) or via government response creating new laws (as in the DCMA and Digital Economy Act). However, broadcasters have since moved to offer their own content on-line and increasing are aiming to build on their existing platforms to offer a hybrid service to viewers, such as Freeview Play,” says Bensberg.

He also adds this has allowed them to offer an official route to accessing their content which they can monetise and gave them control over the branding and prominence of their services.

Gerhard Petrick concluded the panel discussions by stating that digital migration is a vital natural resource and any delays would have long-term consequences to the economy.

“The opportunity cost of not yielding dividend bands has a significant negative impact on countries which haven’t implemented digital migration.  These bands will play a critical role in providing broadband wireless access and allowing citizens to participate in the economy”, he concluded.

To see more updates from the #DigitalDialogue2018 click on the hashtag.