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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Hurdles for digital TV's global reach
By Chris McWhinnie
BBC Monitoring in Amsterdam

Desert in Namibia, BBC
Heat and dust can thwart hi-tech
Heat, dust, erratic electricity supplies and insufficient training are the biggest problems to be overcome to get digital TV into developing countries, a broadcasting conference has been told.

"There are major challenges that we must overcome before digital technology can be rolled out in Africa," said Stephen Moses of the Nigerian Television Authority at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.

When expensive new equipment fails, the nearest engineer with the necessary skills might be hours away by plane.

Local technicians may not have the necessary training and skills to fix the latest technology.

Other problems include slow internet connections which mean that the latest versions of software are not available.

Test equipment to ensure technology stays in good working order also tends to be expensive.

On or off

The exacting technical standards of digital television can mean that poorly configured systems leave screens blank.

Radio mast, BBC
Masts could hold net, TV and radio infrastructure
"With digital either you are there or not there," said Mr Moses. "Digital has a lot of specifications."

Creating local manufacturer and engineering support in developing countries is one way to solve some of these problems, said David Crawford from hardware firm Harris Broadcast Group.

Harris has run projects where all the manufacturing was done in the field to ensure that skills were transferred to local experts.

Digital television and other information networks have yet to be rolled-out across much of Africa but this lack of infrastructure could be an advantage.

New transmitter masts can be shared by television, radio, telephone and net distribution systems.

There are also usually a large number of frequencies or channels in the spectrum still available for broadcasting.

Playing leap frog

This lack of legacy systems could also make it possible for developing nations to go straight for the latest technology and avoid the problems of old satellite receivers or analogue TV sets.

The conference saw more radical proposals to solve the problem of how to get access to technology into developing nations.

"When you consider that in the world today over a billion people live on less than one dollar a day, it brings a whole new context to the digital divide," said Patrick Griffis, director of worldwide media standards at Microsoft.

For nations that have little or no existing infrastructure, Mr Griffis proposed wrapping all radio, TV and net access into a two-way wireless broadcast network.


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