French firm wins digitisation tender

HARARE - Zimbabwe has signed a three-year contract with French-based satellite provider Eutelsat Communications to build the country’s digital terrestrial television (DTT) capacity, it has emerged.

In a statement released yesterday, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (Baz) chief executive Obert Muganyura said the new service is currently being tested with the system expected to launch in the first quarter next year.

The capacity will be used to deliver twelve free-to-view channels to a nationwide network of 48 DTT transmitters, affording viewers improved image quality and a broader choice of television programming.

“Access to EUTELSAT 3B will transform our country into a nationwide provider of digital broadcast services.

“With this Eutelsat partnership and our project partners, the stage is set for Zimbabwe to accelerate the transition from analogue to digital TV in order to deliver improved service to viewers nationwide,” Maganyura said.

The country failed to meet the June 2015 international digital migration deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and is still using analogue television signal.

Currently, struggling national broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is running two channels.
Once the digitisation thrust is achieved, not less than 100 television channels would be accommodated on the same frequency wave hosting ZBC TV and radio, according to telecoms experts.

ZBC also missed the 2012 Southern African Development Community (Sadc) digitisation deadline.

Experts say an ordinary television set needs, a set top box a, device similar to a decoder, to connect to the DVB-T2 and due to its cost, the broke government may have to subsidise the set boxes.

The country has set up four Ultra High Frequency (UHF) transformers countrywide with each having a capacity of carrying 18 to 20 new television channels.

Neighbouring countries like Zambia and South Africa are reported to be at an advanced stage in the digitisation process.

DTT allows for the transmission of numerous channels, using the same amount of spectrum used to transmit a single analogue TV channel. It can also support interactive services, high-definition (HDTV) and mobile TV.

The agreement between Baz and Eutelsat will accelerate digital transition of Zimbabwe’s national broadcasting network that was initiated in 2011, and reflects the general move across Africa to a fully digital environment.

The project is managed by Baz that works with Transmedia, the country’s national signal carrier, ZBC, the State broadcaster, and Huawei for sourcing of digital equipment, including set-top-boxes for user homes.

Huawei will also uplink the digital multiplex from Baz’s teleport facilities in Harare to the EUTELSAT 3B satellite.

Eutelsat’s chief commercial and development officer Michel Azibert said the contract marked the  first step in the company’s involvement in Zimbabwe’s digitisation process.

“It reflects the increasing contribution of satellite to rapid and efficient digital transition. We are delighted to see EUTELSAT 3B’s increasing weight in the African landscape and to be part of this continent-wide movement to digital,” Azibert said.

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