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How to ensure a successful digital switchover:
DigiTAG issues new Guide
You are invited to download the new Guide to Digital Switchover posted today on the DigiTAG website www.digitag.org
• New DigiTAG Guide on digital switchover explores key regulatory, business and technical issues that need to be addressed.
• The regulatory regime adopted will impact DTT roll-out and business models adopted.
• Consumer profile and habits will influence the type of services offered on the DTT platform.
• The analogue switch-off strategy will depend on such factors as the number of terrestrial television households, coverage and penetration of the DTT platform and international and regional obligations.
• National administrations must consider their long-term strategy for UHF spectrum allocation to ensure continued investments on the DTT platform.
The process of digital switchover is well underway around the world. After decades of analogue television, digital technology is being introduced and the analogue platform shut down. Already, nearly all countries have adopted a Digital terrestrial TV (DTT) standard and most have launched DTT services. In Europe, North America and parts of Asia, analogue switch-off has been completed. Most countries are planning to complete the process by the end of the decade, if they have not already done so.
From the experiences in countries that have completed digital switchover, it is now possible to understand the key elements that must be put in place for a successful switchover process.
New DigiTAG Guide to DSO
DigiTAG has developed a new handbook with the aim of helping countries beginning the digital switchover process gain a comprehensive overview of the topics that must be addressed. It examines the key regulatory, business and technical issues, as well as the management of the analogue switch-off process. Finally, it provides an insight into some of the issues national administrations will need to consider in the future such as further "digital dividends", spectrum sharing, and the impact of mobile broadband services on the DTT platform. The coming years will provide many new opportunities and challenges for the DTT platform.
Before a DTT platform can launch, national administrations must first put in place the regulatory regime within the confines of international and regional obligations. The regulatory regime must address such issues as the DTT frequency plan, the DTT standard to adopt, and the broadcasting licensing regime which, in turn, will impact the roll-out of the DTT platform and the business models adopted.
Regulatory regimes will vary between countries with some national administrations making decisions on the details of DTT receiver specifications, coverage requirements and analogue switch-off dates while other administrations may prefer to leave such decisions to the market.
International obligations determine how countries use and share frequencies. Under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), national administrations meet every four years at the World Radiocommunications Conference to update the Radio Regulations. Traditionally, the Radio Regulations had reserved the frequencies in the UHF bands IV and V (470 to 862 MHz), exclusively for television broadcasting services. However, national administrations have begun making changes to the service allocations in the UHF band since 2007.
Regional organizations have provided recommendations and, in some cases, obligations to their member-states on such topics as the DTT standard to adopt, the date for the completion of analogue switch-off, the funding of digital switchover help schemes and the technical conditions for the use of certain frequency bands. Regional organizations have been actively involved in helping their members with digital switchover in southeast Asia (ASEAN), Europe (European Union), Southern Africa (SADC) and Western Africa (UEMOA).
Digital switchover brings new opportunities to the broadcast industry as well as to viewers. Most notably, the launch of the DTT platform increases market competition, whether for the provision of broadcast services or for the delivery of such services. This, in turn, translates into more efficient use of resources and lower costs.
In many countries, the DTT platform has allowed new broadcasters and service operators to enter the terrestrial television market while incumbent broadcasters have generally increased their service offering. As a result, viewers have benefited from wide-range of new services. But the service offering varies between markets. Some markets have launched extensive pay-DTT platforms while others have increased the number of free-to-air programme services available.
The consumer profile and habits in a given market will impact the type of services that the DTT platform will offer. In countries where viewers are accustomed to paying for their television services as a monthly cable or satellite subscription, it is not uncommon to launch a successful pay-DTT platform. In other countries, where the penetration of pay television services is low, viewers may be reluctant to purchase terrestrial television services. However, the low penetration of pay television services offers new market opportunities. Often in these countries, low-cost pay-DTT platforms have been launched alongside extensive free-to-air content.
One of the key factors for the successful implementation of a DTT platform has been the widespread availability of DTT receivers at a price considered affordable by most households. The launch of DTT platforms around the world has allowed many new receiver products to emerge, such as set-top boxes, integrated television sets (iDTVs), USB-stick based receivers, and handheld receivers. Some receivers provide for HD and SD reception, integrated conditional access systems, PVR functionalities, and broadband access.
Different standards are available for DTT platforms. In 1995, the United States became the first country to publish a DTT standard, known as ATSC. It was soon followed by the development of the DVB-T and ISDB standards in 1997 and 1999. Since then, countries around the world have launched their DTT platforms based on one of these three standards. China has its own DTT specification, DTMB, which was standardised in 2006.
Migrating an analogue network to digital technology requires significant investments for new equipment and, potentially, new transmission sites. It will be necessary to make changes to such equipment as antennas, radio-frequency multiplexers, amplifiers, and power equipment.
Digital switchover will require viewers to make changes to their reception equipment in order to access DTT services. All analogue equipment will need to be converted to digital to remain functional. Because many households have an average of 2 television sets, the amount of analogue equipment that must be converted is relatively high in most countries.
Viewers may also need to make changes to their antennas. In some cases, the reception mode will have changed allowing viewers to install portable indoor antennas rather than roof-top antennas. However, in most countries, the DTT platform has been designed for roof-top reception. As these antennas have often not been changed in decades, the launch of the DTT platform provides an opportunity for doing so. It may also be necessary should the frequency band used for the DTT platform differ from the frequency band used by the analogue platform.
Managing analogue switch-off
National administrations need to determine the best strategy for analogue switch-off. The strategy selected will be dependent on such factors as the number of terrestrial television viewers, the coverage and penetration of the DTT platform as well as regional or international obligations.
It will also be important to consider the needs of the viewers and the tools that will be used to inform viewers about the switch-off of the analogue terrestrial platform. Financial assistance may also be necessary to help viewers with switch-off. Some countries, such as the United States, have made financial assistance available to all households while other countries have targeted their assistance to low-income households or households with an elderly or disabled member.
The cost of digital switchover varies between countries. It can depend on the size of the country, the number of viewers that need to be informed about the switch-off as well as the policy tools that will be used to promote digital switchover.
Further issues for consideration
As countries complete digital switchover, questions have begun to emerge on the use of frequencies in the UHF band. The propagation characteristics of these frequencies are particularly appealing to telecom operators for the provision of mobile broadband services. In many countries, the so-called digital dividend has allowed for wireless broadband services to launch in the UHF band. However, such allocations can have significant consequences to the DTT platform including such issues as the management of frequency migration, reception interference and future planning considerations.
Ideas are beginning to emerge on ways which broadcasters can share frequency capacity with other service providers through the introduction of such concepts as shared spectrum usage, dynamic broadcasting, and white space devices.
Source: Natalie Mouyal, on behalf of the DigiTAG Project Office
DigiTAG is an association of stakeholders in the digital terrestrial TV industry and has members from broadcasting, network operators, regulatory, and professional equipment and consumer electronics manufacturing organisations throughout the world. DigiTAG has recently re-launched with new Statutes and the mission of defending and promoting digital terrestrial television on a worldwide basis, and, notably, will work tirelessly to protect spectrum for broadcasting, regardless of the technical standard used on the DTT platform.
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