CA plans digital radio shift on shortage of frequencies

Communications Authority of Kenya

The Communications Authority of Kenya headquarters in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenyan broadcasters will be allowed to adopt a new digital radio standard, which will enable them to use their current spectrum to transmit their signals through a digital network, as the sector regulator moves to address the shortage of analogue frequencies.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has called for stakeholder and public views on a draft Digital Sound Broadcasting (DSB) framework it has formulated to ensure the efficient use of the available broadcasting spectrum and encourage investment in the sub-sector.

“The objective of this consultation is to develop a suitable framework for Digital Sound Broadcasting in Kenya to address the challenge of high demand and low availability for analogue FM broadcasting frequencies that is currently being experienced,” said the CA.

The DSB refers to a high-definition radio transmission network that converts analogue audio into a digital signal for conveyance to an assigned channel in the FM frequency range.

In the draft proposals published on the regulator’s website, the CA says the DSB network will act as an add-on technology to FM radio as opposed to a replacement, clarifying that there will be no switch-off date set for the AM or FM radio.

“Development of DSB will have an objective of substantially increasing the range and diversity of radio services available to listeners including providing for new digital-only services and enabling existing AM and FM radio services to simulcast on the DAB+ network,” reads the draft in part.

Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) will be given priority after the setup of the first national DAB multiplex network by having sufficient capacity reserved for the State broadcaster to simulcast all of its national radio services and to launch new ones.

In the envisioned plan, CA will issue two categories of licences — one to DSB signal distributors and the other to digital broadcast content service providers. The regulatory fee for local DSB signal distributors will be similar to that of Network Facilities Provider tier-three operators.

The inaugural trial of the DAB network service will be in Nairobi with transmitters located in Limuru and Machakos sites to test coverage, reception quality and data services.

“The trial DAB+ network service is estimated to cover an area of 9,176 kilometres squared with a population of 9,329,253, which represents 17 percent of the population of Kenya. The trial will help in building local capacity as well as in raising awareness of DAB+ network services in the country,” said CA.

Among the advantages that come with the DSB rollout include wider coverage and new business opportunities for broadcasters as entry barriers are suppressed by the provision of shared signal distribution infrastructure.

The technology also enables consumers to get access to improved audio quality, content diversity and a greater variety of services due to higher spectral efficiency.

In 2009, the government initiated a digital migration process, three years after an International Telecommunication Union member states conference signed the GE06 Regional Agreement, which set a timeline within which member nations ought to have switched from analogue to digital signals.

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