Digital Switch on – broadcast engineer warns against using outdated equipment

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Information Minister, Lai Mohammed

As Nigeria gradually inch towards the much hyped set deadline for digital switch over from analogue to the digital mode of signal distribution or Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT), a Broadcast Engineer, Media Entrepreneur and Founder of NN24. Tony Dara has warned against use of outdated infrastructure and technology.

Tony Dara, who also serve as consultant to the House Ad-Hoc committee of the National Assembly on Nigeria’s digital switch over process, emphasized that the quality of equipment provided by signal distributors are critical to the success of the digital switch over process.

The broadcast expert who hinges his observation on the use of obsolete equipment came on the heels of his recent fact finding missions to Integrated Television Services (ITS) Digital switch over sites in Ilorin, Kwara State and Jos, Plateau State.

Integrated Television Services Limited is a public company under whose purview the technical implementation of the digital switch over is placed.

Dara, had during his technical mission to Ilorin tried to ascertain the level of standards of ITS to switch on to digital signal distribution via digital terrestrial transmission. While in Jos, he also attempted to obtain necessary information and data in order to assess the level of performance and quality of service of the digital switch on in Plateau State, where Jos was christened as the pilot digital switch on project. In his technical assessment and report, Tony Dara had expressed fears and outright consternation on the whole digital switch on process based on his visits to the two states of Kwara and Plateau states. According to Dara “I am dismayed that for a pilot project of this nature, ITS installed obsolete transmitters that have been disconnected by the original equipment manufacturer”. He was also emphatic and worried over the operational environment of both digital terrestrial transmission stations in Jos and Ilorin built by ITS. Those DTT stations, according to Dara, “are below par they are installed in old buildings that are clearly neither fit for purpose nor appropriate for digital broadcasting workflow”.

Further giving insight into the Jos digital switch on pilot project, Dara berated the information from the industry regulator that ITS was to cover the whole of Plateau State from three sites remain an illusion till date as only Jos city location is functional which only covers parts of Jos city presently.

The broadcast expert, Tony Dara further warned the industry operators about the imminent dangers of ITS installing technology and infrastructures that are obsolete as this would greatly hamper the Digital Switch On process, because these obsolete technology and infrastructure “will not be able to stand the test of time and will not achieve the minimum quality standards required for digital signal distribution”

He therefore urged the industry regulator to pay optimum attention to some of the observed short comings of the Integrated Television Services Limited, which he had passed on for necessary action and intervention. Among the shortcomings as observed by Dara are that “the NBC put up 30 National free to air content to be distributed by signal distributor in each location. Till date ITS has only carried a minimum of 20 plus in Jos, the only site where it transmits, Upgrading DVB-T transmitters or converting to DVB-T2 transmitters has limitations will never be able to function with the full component and complements of a custom built DVB-T2 transmitter, thirdly is redundancy is critical in technology and broadcast transmission is not excluded, ITS DDT stations in Jos and Ilorin do not have sufficient redundancy and therefore prepared for failure, it does not demonstrate the ability to understand that lessons from new technologies enable ever improving engineering designs quality. Having been created from NTA, ITS  is expected to have a solid foundation in broadcast engineering and practice. ITS is a technical company and must conform with standards in engineering and technology, create environment that is supportive of productivity; environment that supports health and safety, and very importantly, since it is owned and funded by all Nigerians should be a leading example in this new era that we have embraced for broadcasting, With the increase in the number of channels licensed by NBC, space required for headend and transmitter equipment increases. Starting in old buildings with limited spaces, limits growth of the headend and lastly the antenna mast and towers are old and legacy infrastructure of the NTA transmission system, it is not clear however, if then longevity can be guaranteed considering the fact that maintenance and service records are not available; and that the digital antennas have heavier pay load and mass”

According to Dara, “I hope this intervention will help all concerned to see the clear and present danger of not getting this right from the outset.”, saying, “the digital era in broadcasting has given Nigeria a massive chance to leap into the league of  global media players as well as change the narrative and image that Nigerians are underachievers”.

 

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