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World Telecommunication And Information Society Day: Why Transition To Digital Broadcasting In Africa Is Paramount

May 17th is the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). The yearly event aims to foster global awareness of the potential of the Internet and ICT’s in general by emphasizing its benefits especially to the economy and society at large. Over the years, the Internet and other ICT’s have proven to be invaluable to both developed and developing nations. Communication and learning are easier and faster because the information available on the internet is accessible in all parts of the world. So what is the WTISD all about and why is this year’s theme important—most especially to African Nations? Let’s find out.

A Brief History of the World Telecommunications and Information Society Day

On May 17th, 1865, two important events took place. The founding of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the first signing of the International Telegraph Convention. The same date was later adopted in 1965 for the celebration of World Telecommunications Day. Subsequently, the UN General Assembly in March 2006 declared May 17 as the World Information Society Day. This was done at the request of the World Summit on the Information Society. The goal is to emphasize the relevance of ICT and other important issues raised by the organization on that day.

ALSO READ: 10 African Countries With The Fastest And Most Reliable Internet Providers

World Telecommunication
International Telecommunication Union headquarters in Geneva (Photo credit: wikipedia.org)

The World Telecommunication Day and the World Information Society Day were later joined by the ITU in November 2006. The decision was taken during its Plenipotentiary Conference in Turkey. May 17 then became the official date to celebrate World Telecommunication Day and the World Information Society Day as one. This day is what we know as the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

The 2021 World Telecommunication and Information Society Day Theme and Its Significance

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus shows how much we need ICT. It goes without saying that without them, the world will be greatly handicapped in the fight against the virus. From sensitization to coordinating vaccination campaigns, ICT has been invaluable in the fight to stop the spread of the virus. However, there is still much to be done in advancing digital transformation in Africa.

Economies around the world, especially in developing nations are hard hit. The pandemic forced a change in our workplace culture. Perhaps this is the reason why this year’s WTISD celebration is themed “Accelerating Digital Transformation In Challenging Times”. This theme aligns with the 2030 agenda of ITU and the UN SPDGs. Also, the organization outlines 5 goals that will help it achieve this agenda namely Growth, Inclusiveness, Sustainability, Innovation, and Partnership. Each goal plays an important role in advancing global digitalization by;

  • Facilitating digital transformation.
  • Bridging the digital gap.
  • Managing risk, challenges, and opportunities associated with the growing adoption of ICT’s.
  • Promote innovation in ICT and;
  • Improve cooperation among its members.

Digitalization In Africa

African countries readily embrace digitalization. However, they seem to be moving at a slower pace than other parts of the world. In the past decades, there is significant growth in mobile adoption within Africa. This drives socio-economic transformation by providing job opportunities, improving communication, information sharing, and promoting the growth of small and medium enterprises.

World Telecommunication
Percentage of internet users per region, 2019 (Photo credit: ITU)

Despite the growth in mobile technology, Africa still trails behind in many areas. The continent has the lowest percentage of internet users in the world. Although some industries have been quick to seize the opportunities provided by the boom in mobile technology. Other sectors are yet to adopt any form of digitalization. Another area where digital transition has come a long way is in broadcasting. Within a decade, many African countries transitioned from analog to digital broadcasting.

Africa’s Transition To Digital Broadcasting

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) refers to the use of digital signals in TV broadcasting. In 2006, ITU member states in different regions agreed to make the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. The deadline for the transition was set for June 2015. This agreement was reached during the ITU Regional Radiocommunication Conference in 2006.

Digital broadcasting
World map showing the progress in digital television transition. Red (countries that have fully transitioned), Yellow (countries that are in the process), Green (countries in the early stages of the transition), Grey (countries that have no immediate plans to transition) (Photo credit: wikipedia.org)

While many African countries have completely transitioned, some others are still in the process. For instance, Lagos State in Nigeria on April 29 started the migration to digital broadcasting. Like Lagos, many African cities and countries are still either in the early or mid-stage (using both analog and digital signals) of the transition.

Digital broadcasting
Progress in the adoption of digital broadcasting around the world (Photo credit: ITU)

Advantages of Transitioning from Analog to Digital Broadcasting

Digital broadcasting has many benefits, and both the end-users and the regulators get to enjoy these benefits. One of the benefits is improved bandwidth efficiency. Owing to the possibility of compressing data, more content can be transmitted at a higher quality than when using analog signals.

Also, there’s an improvement in the quality of data and the efficiency of the data transmission process. With more bandwidth space, regulators can provide more channels at zero extra cost. At a time when energy consumption is a hot topic, going digital is a no-brainer. Digital broadcasting also uses less energy than analog to cover the same distance.

African Countries That Have Fully Transitioned to Digital Broadcasting And Those That Are Still In The Process

About 18 African countries are now using only digital signals in TV broadcasting (DTT). They include Algeria, Cape Verde, Eswatini, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Lesotho. Others are Libya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The African countries that are still in the transition process are Angola, Botswana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, and Cameroon. Others are Comoros, Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Saint Helena, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, and Tunisia.

Conclusion

The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day theme for this year is apt. The need for digitalization is important now more than ever. Major economies around the world are embracing the idea of a completely digital framework. At the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were faced with a new reality. Staying afloat meant adapting to working from home.

A few years ago, digitalization was optional. Today, it is a necessity. African countries cannot afford to be left behind. Therefore, African countries must invest more in ICT infrastructure. Although there is remarkable progress in this regard, the pace is slow. The big question is, how can African countries fast-track the transition from analog to digital? Drop your suggestions in the comment box below.

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