Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East II 2003 Broadcasting, Convergence and Africa’s Future

Broadcasting, Convergence and Africa’s Future

by david.nunes
Dr. Silas Babajiya Yisa PhD Issue: Africa and the Middle East II 2003
Article no.: 11
Topic: Broadcasting, Convergence and Africa’s Future
Author: Dr. Silas Babajiya Yisa PhD
Title: Director General
Organisation: National Broadcasting Commission, Nigeria
PDF size: 72KB

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Article abstract

There is little digital broadcasting, as of yet, in Africa. There are some exceptions; South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt, are taking their first steps with digital broadcasting of radio, DTH television and MMDS and a digital satellite based system has more than one million subscribers. ICT and broadcasting alone cannot resolve Africa’s problems, but they are essential parts of the solution. The biggest impediment to convergence in broadcasting and, indeed, telecommunications in general is the lack of infrastructure.

Full Article

“Africa’s broadcast systems are predominantly analogue. Television broadcasting, for example, still follows, for the most part, either the PAL, SECAM, or NTSC standards. However, some countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt are slowly embracing digital broadcasting, especially for radio, DTH television and MMDS transmission. The advantages of the change from composite analogue broadcast or transmission to component digital transmission are well known. High on the advantage list are the reduced bandwidth usage and near perfect picture and audio quality that digital transmission provides. Changes in technology always bring unforeseen difficulties and shortcomings. Roughly every six months, new technologies are introduced by manufactures to upgrade one system or another in the broadcast chain. Although this might help in some countries, it may well hurt others whose systems are much older and, consequently, more difficult to upgrade. Experts are constantly advising broadcasters throughout the world to wait until the new systems stabilize and digital equipment costs are significantly reduced. Africa is still dazzled by the advantages of digital broadcasting, but it stands to be mesmerized, and slowed, by the challenges of convergence. African nations face an abundance of daunting challenges at the opening of this new millennium. The African continent is embattled on all fronts. Although conflicts of attrition are being fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Western Sahara, Liberia and Somalia, the real war to be fought and won is the war against poverty and want. As the continent closed dark chapters of military dictatorship in 1999, a new multilateral set-up was conceived. The New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) was envisioned as a way to organize Africa’s quest for new and better deals in its global economic relationships. NEPAD seeks to “up the ante” in addressing Africa’s multi-faceted problems in the area of debt reduction, international trade and competitive tarrifs. NEPAD is also seeking the structural realignment and elimination of gaps between and amongst African nations in the areas of trade and commerce. Beyond that, NEPAD seeks to broaden and improve contracts between nations of Africa – their business arrangements – and those of the developed world. As Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki, leaders of Nigeria and South Africa continue to brood over these challenges, they certainly recognize the fundamental importance of deploying information and communication technology, as well as advanced broadcasting systems, to help Africa address some of its teething problems. No one has the illusion that ICT and broadcasting alone can solve Africa’s menacing problems. Nonetheless, they remain a sine-qua-non to NEPAD’s plan of action. Hybrid terrestrial / satellite networks that can deliver interactive and broadcast media throughout Africa are powerful tools. These networks have the potential to help Africa leapfrog older technologies and bridge the yawning gap separating it technologically and economically from the rest of the world. Africa’s communications and broadcast systems are undergoing significant upgrading. In Nigeria there are at least 3 million GSM phones provided by 34 major carriers. In South Africa, Ghana, Egypt and Morocco the GSM mobile telecommunications systems are growing steadily. Broadband facilities for digital television and radio broadcast services, ISP and instructional purposes are in use in South Africa, Ghana and to a lesser degree in Nigeria. Other African countries are in the race to embrace the new technology. The scramble by nations of Africa to connect with the world is understandable. The continent suffers from severe disadvantages in commerce, trade, industrial development and agriculture. Experts ascribe this unfortunate situation, in good part, to lack of communication between and amongst Africans. Thanks to the convergence of telecommunications at the most basic levels, Nigerians can, at least, now speak to their African brothers in Benin as easily as they could from Johannesburg, by just dialing their GSM phones. Broadly speaking, convergence in Africa is still at an elementary stage. Its benefits are mostly restricted to the urban upper class, the banking industry, large companies, government and the larger institutions. Nonetheless, a good start has been made. The greatest impediments to convergence in broadcasting, and indeed telecommunications in general, are the lack of the necessary hardware – including digitally enhanced television monitors – and software infrastructure. The world of ICT and advanced broadcasting convergence will not wait for NEPAD. Africa has to brace up and find its own way. Leading the pack of several options which include ISP’s and satellite signal providers in Africa is the Multichoice Group. On its platform of 1.3 million subscribers in Africa, it operates or transmits on Panamsat PAS1O and PAS7 satellites. These services have the value-added services of Video on demand and store forward among other services. The M-Web Service is also provided by the Multichoice platform. The M-Web Service provides several services via the web with easy connection and quick-downloads for subscribers of DSTV as well as those with other subscriptions. Subscribers can, with the help of phone, TV set with DSTV/Decoder or a PC and GSM line can receive instant information, interact on line and still watch an on-going programme on one of the DSTV channels. Africa can achieve a measure of cross-fertilization of information in the area of trade and industrial development through the delivery of instant information about business opportunities. Africa cannot wait for the time when the cocoa farmer in Ghana, an insurance broker in Dakar, a petroleum Marketer in Lagos and a Banker in Johannesburg will be able to subscribe to a network that gives them on-screen profiles about their several areas of interest, and others, that will help them achieve their businesses goals. As stated elsewhere in this piece, the development of its ICT infrastructure is one area which Africa must now focus upon. During one of my routine visits to our states to inspect broadcast stations in Nigeria, I stumbled into what is clearly a silver-lining in the wilderness. Jigawa, one of Nigeria’s thirty six states, is implementing several radical and ambitious steps to develop their ICT infrastructure. The Governor, Ibrahim Saminu Taraki, gave me a first hand briefing about their ambitious ICT / broadcast project. In a matter of two years, the state plans to have a broadband network which will provide a distribution channels for ISPs and content providers, long distance education, and radio and television services among others. In two years, Nigeria will provide Africa with its third, first class, satellite based, broadband network. The state is already training hundreds of its young citizens in two ICT colleges to provide the much-needed personnel to manage the facility. When the system goes full blast, institutions of higher learning in the country will be able to receive instructions from a control centre, receive data from lecturers, and interact with them accordingly. Skeptics and critics have, at various intervals, cast doubts upon the viability and workability of the Jigawa Project; but, for those of us who are familiar with the ICT terrain, the project is a noble one which must be encouraged. Meanwhile, some of our licenced MMDC (wireless subscriber TV) operators are putting pressure on our establishment to allow them, in addition to their normal subscriber TV services, to utilize some of our allocated channels to carry data to third parties. On the whole, these are encouraging signals on our broadcast and ICT landscape as far as the future of convergence is concerned. What is clear for now is that computers and the TV screens are essential tools of integration, education and development in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Governments at various levels across Africa must put priority to the formulation and articulation of policies that accelerate this process. One important step in this direction is for African countries to begin to subsidize, or at least reduce, the tarrifs on imports of broadcast equipment as well as computers and their spare parts. From whatever perspective one scores it, convergence presents a revolution in the communication process through a blend of interactive and broadcast options. In only one system, the subscriber is presented with a wide range of options with mass consumer appeal: TV quality on the desk-top; direct and personal communications; and rich audio visual environment. This freedom of choice can be extrapolated throughout the realms of entertainment, information, E-commerce, education and business. From broadcasters, the range of services in the convergent world provides us with amazing and user-friendly options which include streaming of live or recorded video, audio and data services. Also, business oriented networks and services such as video on demand are currently available in Europe. Broadcasts cannot have wished for a better deal. News and programme distribution between and among African broadcast stations will flow using some of the options provided by broadcast convergence.” Text “Africa’s broadcast systems are predominantly analogue. Television broadcasting, for example, still follows, for the most part, either the PAL, SECAM, or NTSC standards. However, some countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt are slowly embracing digital broadcasting, especially for radio, DTH television and MMDS transmission. The advantages of the change from composite analogue broadcast or transmission to component digital transmission are well known. High on the advantage list are the reduced bandwidth usage and near perfect picture and audio quality that digital transmission provides. Changes in technology always bring unforeseen difficulties and shortcomings. Roughly every six months, new technologies are introduced by manufactures to upgrade one system or another in the broadcast chain. Although this might help in some countries, it may well hurt others whose systems are much older and, consequently, more difficult to upgrade. Experts are constantly advising broadcasters throughout the world to wait until the new systems stabilize and digital equipment costs are significantly reduced. Africa is still dazzled by the advantages of digital broadcasting, but it stands to be mesmerized, and slowed, by the challenges of convergence. African nations face an abundance of daunting challenges at the opening of this new millennium. The African continent is embattled on all fronts. Although conflicts of attrition are being fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Western Sahara, Liberia and Somalia, the real war to be fought and won is the war against poverty and want. As the continent closed dark chapters of military dictatorship in 1999, a new multilateral set-up was conceived. The New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) was envisioned as a way to organize Africa’s quest for new and better deals in its global economic relationships. NEPAD seeks to “up the ante” in addressing Africa’s multi-faceted problems in the area of debt reduction, international trade and competitive tarrifs. NEPAD is also seeking the structural realignment and elimination of gaps between and amongst African nations in the areas of trade and commerce. Beyond that, NEPAD seeks to broaden and improve contracts between nations of Africa – their business arrangements – and those of the developed world. As Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki, leaders of Nigeria and South Africa continue to brood over these challenges, they certainly recognize the fundamental importance of deploying information and communication technology, as well as advanced broadcasting systems, to help Africa address some of its teething problems. No one has the illusion that ICT and broadcasting alone can solve Africa’s menacing problems. Nonetheless, they remain a sine-qua-non to NEPAD’s plan of action. Hybrid terrestrial / satellite networks that can deliver interactive and broadcast media throughout Africa are powerful tools. These networks have the potential to help Africa leapfrog older technologies and bridge the yawning gap separating it technologically and economically from the rest of the world. Africa’s communications and broadcast systems are undergoing significant upgrading. In Nigeria there are at least 3 million GSM phones provided by 34 major carriers. In South Africa, Ghana, Egypt and Morocco the GSM mobile telecommunications systems are growing steadily. Broadband facilities for digital television and radio broadcast services, ISP and instructional purposes are in use in South Africa, Ghana and to a lesser degree in Nigeria. Other African countries are in the race to embrace the new technology. The scramble by nations of Africa to connect with the world is understandable. The continent suffers from severe disadvantages in commerce, trade, industrial development and agriculture. Experts ascribe this unfortunate situation, in good part, to lack of communication between and amongst Africans. Thanks to the convergence of telecommunications at the most basic levels, Nigerians can, at least, now speak to their African brothers in Benin as easily as they could from Johannesburg, by just dialing their GSM phones. Broadly speaking, convergence in Africa is still at an elementary stage. Its benefits are mostly restricted to the urban upper class, the banking industry, large companies, government and the larger institutions. Nonetheless, a good start has been made. The greatest impediments to convergence in broadcasting, and indeed telecommunications in general, are the lack of the necessary hardware – including digitally enhanced television monitors – and software infrastructure. The world of ICT and advanced broadcasting convergence will not wait for NEPAD. Africa has to brace up and find its own way. Leading the pack of several options which include ISP’s and satellite signal providers in Africa is the Multichoice Group. On its platform of 1.3 million subscribers in Africa, it operates or transmits on Panamsat PAS1O and PAS7 satellites. These services have the value-added services of Video on demand and store forward among other services. The M-Web Service is also provided by the Multichoice platform. The M-Web Service provides several services via the web with easy connection and quick-downloads for subscribers of DSTV as well as those with other subscriptions. Subscribers can, with the help of phone, TV set with DSTV/Decoder or a PC and GSM line can receive instant information, interact on line and still watch an on-going programme on one of the DSTV channels. Africa can achieve a measure of cross-fertilization of information in the area of trade and industrial development through the delivery of instant information about business opportunities. Africa cannot wait for the time when the cocoa farmer in Ghana, an insurance broker in Dakar, a petroleum Marketer in Lagos and a Banker in Johannesburg will be able to subscribe to a network that gives them on-screen profiles about their several areas of interest, and others, that will help them achieve their businesses goals. As stated elsewhere in this piece, the development of its ICT infrastructure is one area which Africa must now focus upon. During one of my routine visits to our states to inspect broadcast stations in Nigeria, I stumbled into what is clearly a silver-lining in the wilderness. Jigawa, one of Nigeria’s thirty six states, is implementing several radical and ambitious steps to develop their ICT infrastructure. The Governor, Ibrahim Saminu Taraki, gave me a first hand briefing about their ambitious ICT / broadcast project. In a matter of two years, the state plans to have a broadband network which will provide a distribution channels for ISPs and content providers, long distance education, and radio and television services among others. In two years, Nigeria will provide Africa with its third, first class, satellite based, broadband network. The state is already training hundreds of its young citizens in two ICT colleges to provide the much-needed personnel to manage the facility. When the system goes full blast, institutions of higher learning in the country will be able to receive instructions from a control centre, receive data from lecturers, and interact with them accordingly. Skeptics and critics have, at various intervals, cast doubts upon the viability and workability of the Jigawa Project; but, for those of us who are familiar with the ICT terrain, the project is a noble one which must be encouraged. Meanwhile, some of our licenced MMDC (wireless subscriber TV) operators are putting pressure on our establishment to allow them, in addition to their normal subscriber TV services, to utilize some of our allocated channels to carry data to third parties. On the whole, these are encouraging signals on our broadcast and ICT landscape as far as the future of convergence is concerned. What is clear for now is that computers and the TV screens are essential tools of integration, education and development in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Governments at various levels across Africa must put priority to the formulation and articulation of policies that accelerate this process. One important step in this direction is for African countries to begin to subsidize, or at least reduce, the tarrifs on imports of broadcast equipment as well as computers and their spare parts. From whatever perspective one scores it, convergence presents a revolution in the communication process through a blend of interactive and broadcast options. In only one system, the subscriber is presented with a wide range of options with mass consumer appeal: TV quality on the desk-top; direct and personal communications; and rich audio visual environment. This freedom of choice can be extrapolated throughout the realms of entertainment, information, E-commerce, education and business. From broadcasters, the range of services in the convergent world provides us with amazing and user-friendly options which include streaming of live or recorded video, audio and data services. Also, business oriented networks and services such as video on demand are currently available in Europe. Broadcasts cannot have wished for a better deal. News and programme distribution between and among African broadcast stations will flow using some of the options provided by broadcast convergence.” Conclusion For now, convergence in Africa is still a subject for academics and almost light-years ahead of the daily reality in most places. The option of convergence, though, is realizable. Africa’s leaders, both political and in business, need to realize that convergence can open a road from the continent to the world connecting its citizens to the global information society. In this way integration, cooperation and accelerated development between and among African nations through NEPAD, will be attained sooner than later.”

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