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Signals looking good for digital changeover in Kenya

Updated: 2013-08-19 06:40
By Li Lianxing in Narobi ( China Daily)

When Kenya embarked on changing to a fully digitalized broadcasting network by the end of 2015, Okalebo Stephen, a 42-year-old fruit seller in Nairobi, was happy about having a greater choice of entertainment channels - but worried about how much it would cost.

"We would have better access to news and entertainment, but to get that we would have to spend thousands of Kenyan shillings on a set-top box and in monthly fees for the service," he says. "This will take a large portion of my total salary, so we simply couldn't sacrifice everything just to watch TV."

But now they have a better and cheaper choice with the recent entry of Star Times digital channel to the market.

"Our goal is to provide people with an affordable digital TV service, with better quality, by using our manufacturing and technology advantages," says Li Weizhong, president of Star Times Media (Kenya) Ltd. "We have launched many packages, the cheapest one at 400 Kenya shillings ($4.56) for 40 channels every month, which is just the cost of several daily meals."

Star Times Media (Kenya) has become a leading digital TV service provider in the country. Its parent Star Times Group is the strongest and biggest DTV system integrator, technology provider and network operator in China. It was founded in 1988 and is based in Beijing.

Based on its integrative technical strength in analogue, IP network and DTV technologies, Star Times is a certified hi-tech enterprise eligible to contract foreign projects in the radio and TV industry from China.

The company has eight satellite stations to ensure its global service and now operates in more than 10 African countries including Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Sudan. It has two broadcasting centers, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Abuja, Nigeria.

The company started its business in Kenya in 2008 and it has worked on several projects including building the DTV trial system for Kenya Broadcasting Corp.

In 2011, Pan Africa Network Group, Star Times' sister company, gained its license through an open bid with local companies to construct the DTV infrastructure for Kenya. By the end of last year had invested $32 million in the country. It has become a crucial part of the country's changeover process from analogue to digital broadcasting.

As the international deadline of 2015 gets closer, the transition to digital remains top of the government's agenda.

According to Francis Wangusi, director-general of the Communication Commission of Kenya, the capital Nairobi will switch off all analogue broadcasting and go fully digital in December.

People will have to buy digital set-top boxes or decoders that are compliant with the national standard before the changeover.

Wangusi said the migration to a digital age would allow the public to enjoy the benefits of emerging technological development and not be left in the dark when the analogue signal was switched off.

However, the Consumers Federation of Kenya was strongly against the switch-off, claiming 4 million viewers in Nairobi were still using analogue and the cost of a set-top box and setting up a service was too expensive.

In response, Star Times has decided to cooperate with Cofek to temporarily provide a free decoder service to local people to help them change over.

Although it has become a big stakeholder in this field in Kenya, entering the market and establishing such a company in Africa was not easy because it involved many sensitive issues and conflicts with local interest groups, says Li, Star Times (Kenya) president.

The group spotted the opportunity as early as 2008 when the registration of the company started, but the company didn't gain a license until late 2011 and only officially opened last year.

"When we finally acquired the signal transmission license in Kenya in 2012, there were waves of attacks from the country's mainstream media saying it was dangerous for a Chinese company to control the digital signal in Kenya," he says. "Even though we won the open bid, some senators and other local media called for a reassessment and termination of our license."

Li claims there was nothing they could do but explain to the government and relative departments that they would never impose any ideology on the local market and would only focus on local investment and creating more jobs to develop the local economy.

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