Archive for category Rants

Uganda’s Digital TV Migration is complete but where’s the EPG Data?

Now that Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) says digital TV migration in the country is complete, its time to look at some of the benefits of using Digital TV.

One of the less advertised features of using digital versus Analogue TV is the extra data that comes with the signal. Among this data is the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) or in a lay man’s term – a listing of programmes and shows for each broadcaster with their respective airing times i.e. TV Guide. Forget that listing at the back of Uganda’s leading dailies – By the way, I can’t believe they still do that!

So why the fuss about EPG data? Other than the obvious, which is knowing when your favorite show will be on, EPG data can be used to schedule recordings on some smart devices. Knowing when a TV program will start and end is very central to most video recorder systems. Also, having this data automatically transmitted, takes the burden away from broadcasters from informing their viewers of any programming changes. It irks me every time I see “Coming Up,” “Up Next,” or “Programming guide” on TV.

As of today, the Free-to-Air mux(es) being used by Signet (474/594MHz) are not transmitting any EPG data. Only the Pay-TV providers are sending these data on the non-UCC frequencies.

It is time for Uganda’s TV broadcasters to start feeding EPG information along side their Free-to-Air TV channel streams. This is not an expensive proposition, and is in fact not optional for the Industry. This would be a small step, while we wait for all those extra channels resulting from the freed spectrum.

Why Uganda will most likely miss the Digital TV Switch-Over Deadline

With now only one month left to the deadline set for all countries to migrate from analogue to digital TV, Uganda will most likely miss the deadline, and instead opt for a post deadline switch-off date.

As we approach the internationally mandated Analogue TV switch-off date of 17 June 2015, Uganda’s major players on the transmission side are eerily quiet. Besides the media Ads from Uganda communications Commission (UCC) and jamboree marketing by Pay-TV subscription providers, there is practically no information on how far the roll out of digital TV is going. Instead Ugandan consumers are being urged to buy analogue-to-digital TV converter boxes that are certified by UCC. But what are consumers finding out after they purchase these boxes?

Kampala in the central region, was the first and still the only place where one can receive terrestrial over-the-air (OTA) digital TV feeds. The transmission in this area continues to be very spotty. If you are one of the few early adopters, and owns a digital TV tuner device, then you’ll have noticed that a number of TV channels on that platform are intermittent i.e. ‘On and off.’ As of Today, major television stations in Uganda like Urban, WBS TV, Bukedde-2 are not viewable on the distributed signal from Signet. For nearly two months even market leaders like NTV were off. For a full status on what station is on or off, take a look at: Available Digital TV Channels in Kampala.

Beyond Kampala, there is not much happening as Analogue TV continues to rein. The few Digital TV migration Ads that have been running on TV, radio and newspapers do not seem to be making any impact. Most people are just simply unaware of what is supposed to happen. But most importantly, these upcountry areas are not covered, so even if someone say Soroti town was to listen to UCC’s Ad, oblige and go out to buy an analogue-to-digital TV converter box, it would be useless as they would not be able to use it until the transmission rolls out to that region. Most people will not spend their hard earned money to buy these devices before the service is available in their area. So for most areas in the country, and depending on availability, Pay-TV is the only route to Digital migration at this time.

So what happens when the above deadline arrives?

The parties responsible for the Migration process will probably blatantly declare that the migration process is complete (Hoping that the upcountry areas at least major regions are covered). UCC is likely to ask Broadcasters to switch off Analogue TV transmissions for the Kampala area, but leave upcountry stations on. However, even in Kampala, the Analogue TV feeds are likely to be switched on again after some days of a blackout attempt. Why you ask?

The answer is very simple and very much similar to answers to other processes that required Ugandan citizens to spend more on infotainment – Remember the TV Tax? So the answer you guessed right is Politics. It is the political season here in Uganda, and a blanket and permanent switch-off of Analogue TV stations is likely to trigger a backlash and protest from several quarters. No Ugandan politician during this election season would want to be seen as the one depriving a citizen of their source of information. And by the way you know where those who don’t have Digital TV units now will run to for help on stopping the switch-off!

Also, as Uganda’s politicians return back to their rural constituencies to campaign for votes, they are likely to find a population that is already tired and angry of unfulfilled promises. Adding another ‘hot button’ like ‘You need to spend more money to continue watching your TV’ will not be easy. So Analogue TV switch off in these areas of Uganda will not occur for sometime. Remember, a lot of Ugandans have not been sensitized on why this Digital TV migration process is necessary.

Back in Kampala, most households (which don’t already have) will opt to buy a set top box aka ‘decoder’ from pay TV providers like Star, Go TV, Azam etc. In fact for the first few months, this will be the only way to ensure your favorite local TV channels are always available and not intermittent. This is because, even before the Digital TV migration process started, several of the Pay-TV providers signed monetary agreements with the broadcasters for their channels to be carried. This ensures that these feeds are always quickly worked on if they are having issues. Not quite so for the centrally distributed Free OTA Signal.

For the brave and those who will opt to buy analogue-to-digital TV converter boxes, expect the TV digital experience to remain similar to what it has been in the testing phase i.e. TV stations being on and off periodically.

So with Analogue TV likely to still be on, You might be wondering why any one would bother with all this ‘digito’ stuff. Well for one thing analogue TV must and will eventually go. It is not politics, but simply a technically efficient way for TV signals to be carried and distributed. But even if this reason is not convincing enough, compare the two types of broadcasts. If you watch your favourite local TV show in digital format, then you’ll agree with me that watching it in analogue format is not visually appealing at all. Really Digital TV is the way to go, there’s no turning back.

In conclusion, I doubt the major players see Free Over-the-Air Digital TV as a big priority. For the Pay-TV providers, luring consumers to a subscription model is now big business. And as long us the Free OTA transmissions are iffy-iffy then poorly informed consumers will continue to line up at Pay-TV dealer shops for those decoders.

If it can not do this at this late hour, UCC needs to prevail on Signet Uganda, the party responsible for Digital TV signal distribution and ask them to: step up and start informing the nation where Uganda stands on the Digital TV roll-out. The last time I checked, the information on Signet’s website was very dated and the last social media update on their twitter account i.e. @SignetUganda was on 11 December 2014!

Furthermore, UCC needs to know that its has failed Ugandans when it comes to a smooth transition from Analogue to Digital TV. No matter the country, people tend to warm up to a gradual and slow change but a drastic switch off is simply uncalled for especially given the 8+ years since the Ugandan government committed it self to this process. I understand, the constraints the commission has faced such as delayed funding, procurement, etc., but all of these issues should have been sorted out a long time ago.

Ugandans like citizens elsewhere deserve better on Digital TV migration, than these half-measure processes.

Uganda’s Digital TV migration has stalled

For nearly a month now, Uganda’s Free-To-Air digital TV signals have been off. After many followers of this project breathed a sigh of relief when the transmission began a couple of months ago, it has once again become clear why the transition to digital TV in Uganda will really be messy.

To date, the testing phase for the greater kampala area has really been nothing short of a gimmick. The channels allotted to free over-the-air broadcasters have been intermittent, and when off, no communication has been provided. Also, there’s no publicly available schedule – just press statements from officials.

Most perplexing is the fact that the body in charge of migration i.e. Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) has been running adverts on local media announcing Digital TV and its benefits. Even, for someone who understands what digital TV is all about, I find these ads very unhelpful considering that they’s really no concrete migration schedule or ‘call to action.’ Also, why advertise at this point if no test or pilot program is even available. All I see that the adverts are doing is simply creating anxiety as opposed to informing the public.

I would like to suggest the following to UCC:

A signal test period with start and end dates be advertised to the public. This can be done on website, social media, and the local papers.

Notify the public when the channels are switched off such as during maintenance, upgrades etc

Furthermore, there ought to be a forum where TV owners and especially early adopters can provide feedback on TV quality signals etc. The current web pages on the UCC’s website on Digital TV migration do not provide any updates whatsoever.

Also, there’s currently no recommended manufacturer list of DVB-T2 converters that TV owners should buy. How about outlets where these tuners can be purchased? I know there are the pay TV providers, but that is not enough.

In summary, I highly recommend that UCC come out with regular updates on TV migration. Where exactly are we? The deadline date is really too close for such a venture!

OK, I know with all the issues being experienced with procurement, politics etc this may be too much to ask of Uganda Communications Commission to do.

But come on guys, Ugandans deserve better, and would want to know what exactly is going on with this important project. If you have issues tell us, we understand the environment!

UTL 3G – A painful experience

I’ve recently been testing 3G-based Internet access provided by Uganda Telecom. The test locations were in the Northern suburbs of Kampala. My experience with this connection type was not a good one. Here is why.

Depending on your location, the 3G signal is very weak. Typical strengths range anywhere form 0 to 19%.
The 3G signal seems to degrade through out the day and by 1 pm, the signal goes off. I was able to get the assistance of an engineer, when ever that was the case, however, after 7pm the connection would fail completely.

The Internet connection when successful is painfully slow. So much slow that it feels like your are using a GPRS/2G connection.

I’ve been told that this service by UTL will improve in the future, but for now, I would discourage anyone who wants to use a mobile 3G connection from this ISP.

While the UTL service is unlimited per month and at a competitive rate of 80,000/= (Uganda shillings), it is not worth the trouble.

Save your self the trouble and look at alternatives like Orange Uganda. Next I will see how the service from Orange and the other providers is like.

If yoou have any experience with UTL, and other ISPs, please share your experience in the comments below.

Uganda Telecom 3G Mobile Internet Down

As UTL 3G users in Uganda have noticed, Internet access via 3G has been down since 19 May 2011. While other clients on ADSL etc lines are active, the performance is really poor. If you have called the customer care center hotline (300), the best you will hear each time is ‘Our technicians are working on the problem …. blah blah blah’ Come on guys you can do better than this!

UPDATE: As of 6pm 24 May 2011, 3G service seems to have been restored. 5 days later . Wow…