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Digital switchover in Africa and the 17 June 2015 deadline: is it already too late?

"States should not act impulsively, but the development and implementation of a precise action plan cannot wait anymore."

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Africa

This article follows previous works and articles we have published on the migration to digital terrestrial television (DTT) in Africa, and the switch-off of analogue television services it involves.

17 June 2015 was set as a first deadline for the switchover to DTT. However, in African countries, terrestrial television broadcasting still uses analogue signals and DTT roll-out is struggling, which triggered a wave of alarmist statements. It is therefore important to clarify what the deadline of 17 June 2015 really means. In order to do so, we provide an overview of DTT migration in Africa and related issues, and highlight the opportunity that this process still represents to rethink and reshape the audiovisual sector at a national level.

What will really happen on 17 June 2015? Is this date more meaningful for mobile or for TV future in Africa?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) coordinates spectrum band allocations to different applications in order to optimize spectrum usage and reduce interferences. Following an agreement in 2006 (“GE06” agreement in Geneva), a deadline for the switch-off of analogue television broadcasting was set for a zone consisting of Africa, Middle East (up to Iran) and Europe (Russia included):

  • 17 June 2015 in the UHF1 band
  • 17 June 2020 in the VHF2 band for some countries that have asked for an extension.

Following the deadline, the spectrum freed up by the ASO could be allocated for mobile use, mainly in the 800MHz band, and potentially in the 700MHz band.

These dates have often been presented as deadlines beyond which analogue TV broadcasting in these bands will be prohibited. However, the commitments made by the signatory states of the GE06 agreement enable them to continue to use these spectrum bands for analogue broadcasting after these dates but only on the condition that:

  • states are not causing unacceptable interferences
  • states are not asking for their analogue broadcasting services to be protected from interferences.

In this context, it is worth noting that the 800MHz spectrum band is not widely used for TV in Africa. Accordingly, the first deadline really matters for mobile operators only in a few countries. In practice, for the audiovisual sector, (many) African countries where the 800MHz band is still being used for analogue TV broadcasting cannot ask neighbouring countries to implement specific measures in case of interferences with their broadcasting signal, and instead have to adapt their use of the 800MHz band if it interferes with the telecoms signals of neighbouring countries. Thus, from a technical-only perspective, the deadline of 17 June 2015 is of little importance to the audiovisual sector in most African countries.

The situation of African countries with respect to DTT transition is heterogeneous, with very few countries that will have switched off their analogue signal by 17 June 2015

Unlike Europe, where analogue broadcasting was switched off by the anticipated deadline that had been agreed among European states (2012), the impact of non-compliance with the first deadline agreed in Africa should be considered carefully. In Africa the VHF band is often much more used for TV broadcasting than the UHF band (and the 800MHz band in particular). Moreover, TV penetration in general, and that of terrestrial broadcasting in particular, is not at all comparable between Africa and Europe, because of the very low rate of households equipped with a TV set in Africa, and because of the high usage in some African countries of satellite and cable. Indeed, aside from South Africa and Nigeria, where DTT migration raises specific issues, the total number of households affected by the switch-off of analogue terrestrial broadcasting would be below 40 million for the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa (barely as much as France and Spain combined at the time of migrating to DTT). It should also be noted that most African countries have a less pressing need than Europe for the use of the UHF band for mobile telecoms services.

This brings into perspective the implications of the delay in implementing DTT in African states, without minimising what remains at stake for the vast majority of these states.

African countries are in various stages of preparedness with regard to the digital switchover (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Status of the DTT switchover in Africa

Figure 1: Status of the DTT switchover in Africa

A few examples are highlighted below.

  • Tanzania, which is one of the few African countries to have switched off its analogue TV signal, was the first on the continent to complete the transition to DTT. In Tanzania, analogue broadcasting was shut down gradually, starting with Dar es Salaam on 31 December 2012 and ending in 2014. In Dar es Salaam, the largest city in the country, the number of DTT set-top boxes was insufficient to meet the demand of the population, which due to lack of information had not purchased STBs in advance. What happened in Dar es Salaam contributed to better informing people in the other 19 cities involved in the digital switchover with regard to the overall DSO process. However, 24% of the 46 million Tanzanians, mostly urban, were covered by analogue broadcasting, and the ASO therefore "only" applied to 2.7 million households.
  • In contrast, to complete its transition, South Africa must cover 84% of the country’s total population with its digital terrestrial TV signal before analogue broadcasting can be switched off end of 2016. This plan, announced in April 2015,4  also ensures the continuity of analogue TV broadcasting in good conditions until end of 2016 through the conclusion of bilateral agreements with each of South Africa’s neighbouring countries: an agreement has already been signed with Lesotho and meetings are planned with Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in June 2015.
  • Finally, the situation in Côte d'Ivoire provides a good overview of delays experienced in many African countries, but also of interesting projects. For instance, the “Comité National de Migration vers la TNT” of Côte d'Ivoire has just launched in June 2015 a switch-off pilot involving a 1000-household test before the experiment can be replicated nationwide in December 2015.5  Ultimately, DTT will offer nine free-to-air channels including three public channels from the Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI), and a pay-TV bouquet. A key challenge Côte d'Ivoire will face, which Analysys Mason analysed in other African countries,6  is its ability to feed these new channels with nationally produced programmes. In this context, on 3 June 2015, RTI signed co-production agreements with several international and Ivorian partners aiming at enhancing the Ivorian drama production "in order to broadcast programmes that meet international standards to match viewers’ expectations".7  Interest in the development of the African TV market, driven by the deployment of DTT, is demonstrated by partnerships Côte d'Ivoire inked with South African or French independent producers, such as Lagardère Active, a leader in French drama productions

Each state will nevertheless have to strike the right balance between using possible partnerships with foreign groups (such as Star Times, Multichoice and Canal+) to accelerate the deployment of DTT, and controlling the process in order to promote access to high-quality, national content for a wide audience. 

Is it not too late? Does an opportunity to rethink and reshape the audiovisual sector still exist?

Overall, despite some negative reviews, to the extent that a state has initiated the transition process and is not significantly lagging behind other countries in its region, there is no cause for serious concern. DSO is an important project for the audiovisual sector for the next decades, so states should not act impulsively. However the development and implementation of a precise action plan cannot wait anymore.


Analysys Mason has advised many governments and companies on these issues and will be the partner of choice for analysing the specific situation of each country and recommending the best way to rethink the audiovisual sector, to frame the DTT strategy and to implement the transition to DTT.


1 UHF Bands IV & V: 470–862MHz.

2 VHF Band III: 174–230MHz.

3 The 800MHz band usually refers to 790–862 MHz and the 700MHz band to 694–790MHz

4 Screen Africa, “South African Minister of Communications announces new DTT timeline”, 21st April 2015 - http://www.screenafrica.com/page/news/satellite-and-signal-technology/1651153-SA-Minister-of-Communications-announces-new-DTT-timeline#.VXhv_LmJiF5. 

5 La veille de l'audiovisuel en Afrique, 4 June 2015 - No 15. http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/broadcast-fr/issue-no15.

6 See “Content is at the core of Cameroon’s DTT strategy”, 7 July 2014 (O. Pascal – Analysys Mason) - http://www.analysysmason.com/About-Us/News/Press-releases1/Content-is-at-the-core-of-Cameroons-DTT-strategy/.

7 Hamadou Bakayoko, CEO of RTI -  http://news.abidjan.net/h/553485.html.