Digital Switchover to advance country’s broadcasting infrastructure - BCJ
Executive Director, Broadcasting Commission, Cordell Green. (Photo: JIS)

KINGSTON, Jamaica - Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) says the island's impending Digital Switchover (DSO) will see significant advancements in the capacity of the country’s public broadcasting infrastructure.

In a news release, the commission said the DSO -- which refers to the transition from analogue television broadcasting to digital television broadcasting -- will involve a phased transition from the outdated analogue technology to the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 3.0, also referred to as Next Generation (NextGen) TV.

ATSC 3.0 is an Internet Protocol (IP)-based television standard that provides enhanced viewer experience, the BCJ said. It is anticipated that it will facilitate new domestic commercial services, and better technical quality. There will also be opportunities for Jamaicans to move from television sets to mobile, portable, and pocket equipment, compatible with NextGen Network technologies, the commission added.

Executive Director, Broadcasting Commission, Cordell Green said the transition is in keeping with the Government’s mandate to create a digital society.

“The benefits of the switch are numerous, both from the point of view of the television viewer and the television broadcaster perspectives. Where the viewers are concerned, what they should expect are more channels… . It allows a broadcaster to be able to provide as many as 15 video programme streams within a single channel,” he explained.

Green said the switchover is a significant milestone in the buildout of the country’s digital infrastructure.

“We will be getting a modern media infrastructure that is [structured] for the Internet environment, updated legislation, more opportunities, and channels for content distribution, which then should support creation of more content, better infrastructure to support mobilisation and communication of important information in moments of health crises, natural disasters, and security crises,” he stated.

“The beauty about this is that the information can be customised for a geographic area. So, you can have an event taking place in one community and another taking place elsewhere, and this system is dynamic so you are watching the television channel and the information received might be immediately relevant to you where you are,” Green explained.

The technology also enables TV programming on phones and tablets, providing higher quality video and audio, improved accessibility features, and enhanced interactivity capabilities.

Green notes that the technology has significant implications for the education sector, as it facilitates sharing of information.

“There is also the capability for the very same television broadcast signal to be used to send data. So educational institutions could be sending material to a television in the home or even to a smart device without using the Internet. Although you may not have data at the time, that does not deprive you of using content coming into the home. That portends a lot that we will be able to do from an education point of view,” he pointed out.

In May 2020, Cabinet gave approval for, among other things, the commencement of the DSO in 2022, with the ATSC 3.0 standard.

For the transition period, broadcasters will simultaneously engage in analogue and digital transmission (simulcast), as they develop and test their facilities.

“You can’t shut off the old television system until we have enough of the new TV receivers that people will use. We also can’t shut off until the consumers are ready, and of course, the broadcasters need to be ready,” Green stated.

When the transition is completed, analogue television transmission will cease at stations, and all free-to-air analogue signals will be turned off and replaced by digital signals.

To receive the ATSC 3.0 channels, persons will have to purchase ATSC 3.0 televisions, or continue to use existing televisions with a set-top box.

Viewers that receive television programming via cable or satellite service will continue to have access to free-to-air TV stations.

However, viewers that use over-the-air reception (rooftop or rabbit-ear antenna), will need to have an ATSC 3.0 compatible television or have the signal converted via set-top box to enable their analogue standard TV to receive the digital signal.

Green said Jamaica’s initial implementation time of 2023 for the switch has been altered due to adverse factors affecting global supply chain systems.

“That date is going to be revised. The recommendations were made pre-COVID. It had a very aggressive timeline that contemplated 2023 but that is not a practicable date both in the COVID-19 impact on supply chain and with the Ukraine-Russia war… weighing down on the ability to get ships for these advanced systems,” he explained.

Nevertheless, Green said Jamaica, which is far advanced in its preparations, will be among a handful of countries, including the United States of America and South Korea, to make the transition to NextGen television technology.

He, however, stated that Jamaica will have the distinction of being the first country to make the leap from analogue directly to the ATSC 3.0 technology, rather than making the gradual transition as other countries have done.

“We have ATSC 3.0 transmitters turned on now in Jamaica being tested by the television stations,” he reported.

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