Category Archives: News

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.

Uganda’s analogue TV stations switched off in Kampala

In one of the first major moves to migrate the country to Digital TV, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on Monday 15 June 2015, ordered broadcasters to switch off their analogue transmissions in and around Kampala. As expected most of the broadcasters complied, and Television consumers in this market who had not transitioned from their old analog TV sets will now have no TV.

It is too early to tell what sort of reaction Ugandans have about the switch over. Also, the rest of the country still remains on Analogue, and will be phased into the migration on 31 of July and August 2015.

For now, the majority of TV channels, including NTV, NBS, WBS, Urban, UBC and others are using the 474MHz multiplex on the Free-To-Air feed around Kampala. For a detailed list of what channels are available, please check out Availability

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 popular TV channels currently off the Digital TV (OTA) spectrum

Uganda’s traditionally most watched TV stations, Nation TV (NTV) and Wavah Broadcasting services (WBS) are currently off the UCC assigned Over-the-Air digital TV frequency, 474MHz. WBS TV has been off for nearly a month now, while NTV’s feed went off last week, with a brief return on Tuesday evening. Since, most Ugandans are still using analogue (and a few using Pay-TV-services), these blackouts on the Kampala Free-to-Air Digital TV transmission multiplex have gone pretty much unnoticed. Check out the current status for all Free-to-Air Digital TV Channels.

With all the questions surrounding the ability of Signet, the sole distributor of the Digital TV signals in Uganda , it is sad to see that some of Uganda’s major digital TV channels are off or barely on at this very late stage.
Signet, which was spawned from the national public broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) and contracted to handle the Digital TV signal distribution through out Uganda.

It would be nice to see all the parties responsible for digital TV migration in Uganda (i.e. Signet, Uganda Communications Commission, and broadcasters) aggressively updating the country, on where we are regularly especially now that we are quickly approaching the June switch off deadline.

How to Migrate to Digital TV in Uganda – A consumer’s Experience

Are you still puzzled by Digital TV Migration? Are you wondering how to start watching Free-to-Air DTV broadcasts in your area? Help is here inform of a consumer’s experience. Julian Mwine has put together a seven minute video, explaining the process involved in migrating to Digital TV in Uganda. Keep in mind, despite the deadline being 4 months away, we are still in early stages.

Uganda’s digital TV Migration – A status update

With only 5 months left before the international deadline for analogue TV switch off, here is where Uganda stands in the move from analogue to digital TV broadcasting.

As of January 2015, the following areas have access to the Over-the-Air digital TV signal: Kampala, Entebbe, Bombo, and Mityana. Basically only a small part of central Uganda is covered. Also DVB-T tuner tests indicate that depending on your location, you may still not be able to access the DTV signal which is being transmitted from Kololo. In some areas for example East of Naalya an outdoor Antenna may be required.

Also, only a few TV stations are currently broadcasting in Digital TV. For example,
NTV Uganda, Bukedde TV 1, WBS TV, Urban TV, UBC etc. For a specific status on each of the local TV channels, take a look at the Digital TV Migration Status page

With regards to equipment, some merchants in Kampala have already started to sell analogue-to-digital TV converter boxes, which is what the majority of household with require. However, at prices of up to 150,000/=, this might still be prohibitive for the majority of homes in the country.

With the the looming deadline, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), has promised to start rolling out Digital transmission to other areas of Uganda. We look forward to that.

Uganda’s Digital TV migration: Still a messy, on and off affair

digital_tv_migration_ug_1

With the June 2015 international deadline for TV migration only a year away, Uganda’s digital TV migration process is still very much a messy affair. Very few Ugandans know that in a few months, they could find themselves not able to watch their favorite TV programs.

The pilot testing phase in the greater Kampala area continues to be an on and off affair. Not all TV stations currently broadcasting in analogue format are on board the digital train. For example, only the following are currently being transmitted via DVB-Terrestrial.

Bukedde2
EATV
LTV
NBS
NTV
Record
UBC
Urban
WBS

For all channels broadcasting, the reception has somewhat degraded when compared to last year. The audio and video quality is also generally poor. For a complete status, please check out the Digital TV in Uganda Status page.

As for consumer awareness, there are very few Ugandans who are aware of the migration process. Uganda Communications Commission(UCC) (UCC), the body in charge of steering the digital TV migration, has in the past few months been running Ads on local TV, but it looks like even those Ads, have not had a change in the awareness and preparedness of the masses.

Compounding the problem is the lack of Analogue-to-Digital TV converter boxes (or decoders) on the market. As of today, the only providers of these boxes have been the pay TV providers such as Star Times and Go TV. Yet, these providers require you to subscribe to their services on a monthly basis. It seems the providers, have ignored the call by UCC, that they de-scramble the Free-to-Air channels on their boxes. This effectively means that for the ordinary Ugandan, moving to digital TV today means subscribing to a pay TV provider.

It is hoped that in a few months, the decoders will be available on the market.  This after five firms were approved to import and sell these devices.

My advice to early migrants, is that while not available locally, take a look at hardware known to work on the Digital TV Uganda site. We’ll continue to update the list as more people come on board.

Digital (Free-To-Air) TV now available in Uganda

Finally, Digital TV broadcasting has started in Uganda. Below is a list of channels I was able to scan for the Kampala area. See my previous post on how to scan for these channels.

service = UBC TV (UCC)
service = UBC STAR TV (UCC)
service = East AFRICA TV (UCC)
service = ITV (UCC)
service = CITIZEN TV (UCC)
service = WBS TV (UCC)
service = BUKEDDE TV 1 (UCC)
service = BUKEDDE TV 2 (UCC)
service = URBAN TV (UCC)
service = RECORD TV (UCC)
service = TOP TV (UCC)
service = NTV (UCC)
service = UBC TV (UCC)
service = LIGHT TV (UCC)
service = MIRACLE TV (UCC)
service = CCTV (UCC)
service = NBS (UCC)
service = CAPITAL TV (UCC)
service = BOUQUET SERVER 1 (UCC)
service = BOUQUET SERVER 2 (UCC)
service = RTV (UCC)
service = KBC (UCC)
service = TBC 1 (UCC)
service = BBC WORLD (UCC)

Of these, only six (TV: UBC, EATV, ITV, WBS, BUKEDDE-1, and NTV) are currently broadcasting via DVB-T.

And the fun part for the Linux people out there – How to play these channels.

If using VLC, create a channels.conf file (i.e. scan using Xine format). When done, simply run:

#> vlc .xine/channels.conf

All the channels will be populated as a playlist. Then select your favorite channel to watch.

NOTE: If you are playing using a remote SSH session i.e. embedded device: something like this will work:

vlc -I dummy -V xv -f --width 1024 --height 768 dvb-t:// :dvb-caching=300 :dvb-frequency=474000000 :dvb-inversion=-1 :dvb-bandwidth=8 :dvb-a-fec=2/3 :dvb-transmission=8 :dvb-b-modulation=QPSK :dvb-guard=1/4 :dvb-hierarchy :program=ENTER_PROGRAM_NUMBER_HERE e.g. for UBC enter 1 (see channels.conf file)

Initial observations: Audio quality is a bit off for some channels like NTV – I guess this will improve over time as the broadcasters get their act together.

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