Botswana’s digital migration, which the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA) has stated will be “the costliest of any nation”, will reportedly cost the government approximately P1 billion that it has not budgeted for.
It is also being reported that some local companies are in the process of manufacturing some devices that are needed for this migration despite the fact that, contrary to regulations, provision of this service was never tendered for. Against expert advice from government departments as well as against the recommendations of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) digital task force that recommended a European standard, Botswana adopted a Japanese one. The experts recommended Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial 2nd Generation (DVB-T2) standard, over the Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial (ISDB-T) but were overruled. Experts say that it would have made sense for Botswana to adopt a standard used by the rest of SADC. For purposes of managing the global radio spectrum, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has divided the world into three regions. Botswana is in the same region with Europe and not Japan.
This migration will entail use of a device called “talkbox” which some Batswana companies are said to be manufacturing with their Japanese counterparts. Given the amount of money involved, this is a service that should have been tendered for but that never happened, but Botswana Guardian has been reliably informed that talkbox has not been tendered for.
In late July this year, government spokesman, Dr. Jeff Ramsay told Botswana Guardian that this exercise would be an opportunity for local companies to partner with the Japanese and explore possibilities of manufacturing mobile phones and TV sets for the Botswana market.“Already as we speak, there are local companies talking to Japanese companies to see how they can provide services here,” he said at the time.As Botswana Guardian reported last month, the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime is said to be investigating the migration process. Sources wonder when and how companies that are manufacturing the talkboxes managed to seal this deal when this job was never advertised. One raised questions about the pre-selection of these companies.
“How did they know that Botswana was going to adopt the Japanese standard? When did they form partnerships with Japanese companies? When did they start preparing themselves? At this point, everybody else should be preparing themselves but these companies seem to be far ahead,” said a source.
SADIBA, which touts itself as “the leading knowledge hub on digital broadcasting”, released a statement in April this year in which it said that Botswana would spend the most for choosing a standard different to that adopted by the rest of the SADC region. “The radio frequency channel bandwidth used in Africa is 8 MHz and not 6 MHz as is the case in all the countries in which ISDB-T has been deployed. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the mass produced ISDB-T devices available and those required for Botswana,” SADIBA stated, adding that unique chipsets and ISDB-T receivers would need to be developed exclusively for Botswana.
“A massive investment will be required to industrialise an 8 MHz ISDB-T solution. Media reports from Botswana are silent on whether any international chipset manufacturer has committed to producing such chipsets and what the chipsets and receive devices would cost. What is clear is that a fragmented one-country 8 MHz implementation of ISDB-T is unlikely to ever see the mass production volumes required to yield a drop in chipset- and receiver prices to anywhere near those of mass produced DVB-T and DVB-T2 chipsets and receivers.”
Echoing the analysis already made by SADIBA, an expert familiar with the migration process said that South Africa will pay proportionately far less than Botswana for its own migration. According to this expert what Botswana is doing is “like retrofitting a Corolla with a Rolls Royce engine. If you do that, you have to build a new car altogether.”Government spokesperson, Dr. Jeff Ramsay said expenditure for standardisation will cost less than P16 million, but added that other costs in digital television migration will be incurred.
“Costs can not be determined because television equipment is expensive,” said Dr. Ramsay, adding that preparation for digital transmitters has been ongoing. It was not clear how government had known some 10 years ago that it will use Japanese model for digital migration. He could not disclose the names of the companies that have partnered with Japanese “talkbox” manufacturers saying the information is “commercial.”
The mysterious companies, according to Dr. Ramsay had tendered for talkbox, but details remain patchy.