After long road of threats, court cases and boycotts, we are back on track and Nairobi will mark the first phase of the digital migration at the end of this month. So come 23.59 Hours on December 31st , be sure to say bye to analog signal. According to Communication Authority the second phase shall be implemented on 2nd February 2015 and shall cover Mombasa, Malindi, Nyeri, Meru, Kisumu, Webuye, Kakamega, Kisii, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyahururu (Nyadundo), Machakos, Narok and Loldiani (Rongai). The third and final phase will take place on 30th March 2015 and shall cover Garissa, Kitui, Lodwar, Lokichogio, Kapenguria, Kabarnet, Migori, Voi (Vuria), Mbwinzau/Kibwezi, Namanga and all other remaining sites.
Looking back at all those delays, I now think that in many ways it was a blessing in disguise for many Kenyans. Enough time to acquire the required set top boxes for the digital signals or channels. By now people should be completely ready for the digital switch over but we all know Kenyans….last minute as always. The good news is, there are still a few days to go.
Before going out there to grab a set top box, consumers should be aware that the digital terrestrial platforms have capability to accommodate both Free-to-air (FTA) channels and Pay TV channels. It is for the individuals to decide what kind of service he/she wants to receive before purchasing a set top box. Below are the different between FTA Channels and Pay Channels according to digitalkenya.go.ke
(i) A consumer who is interested in receiving only FTA channels is required to purchase an approved free to air set top box. Once purchased through payment of a one off fee to meet the cost of the STB, there are no other charges whatsoever. A free to air STB is capable of receiving all the FTA channels that are transmitted in that location unencrypted on all digital terrestrial platforms, in Kenyan case that would be SIGNET , PANG and the Platform by Consortium of KTN, NTV, Citizen which was granted the license the other day. However, it must be understood that such a free to air STB cannot receive encrypted free to air TV channels that may have been included in a pay TV bouquet.
(ii) In the case of Pay TV services on the digital platform, the channels that are part of the Pay TV bouquet are usually fully encrypted and can only be accessed by subscribers who have authorisation by way of smart card and related Pay TV set top box. This Pay TV service makes use of the Conditional Access (CA) feature which enables the encrypted content to be decrypted for reception by only those who have valid subscription authorisation to the pay channels. So here we talking about the likes of Gotv, Startimes and Zuku
In other words, the pay tv still remain the way they have been although they have taken advantage of the digital migration to increase their number of subscribers. Multichoice saw this coming sometime back and launched Gotv which is much cheaper and flexible than their flagship pay tv service Dstv. With that they have been out there trying to get the new subscribers. StarTimes also has not been left behind and I guess at the end of the digital migration period the two will be boasting of a very healthy subscribers’ base. But I think Zuku on the on hand has not taken this seriously and might not reap the dividends as much. They have not been as aggressive as the other two in the run to the first phase of the switch off.
On separate notes, there are three ways to ensure that you are ready for the 23:59 Hour on 31st.
- Buy Free to Air FTA Set to box. The use of digital set to top box will enable the consumers to continue to make use of their existing analogue TV sets. As explained above these set top boxes only receive unencrypted Free to air channels. The likes of NTV, KTN or Citizen will remain free and available but with expected increase in competition in the coming years after the migration and ever maturing online sector, I will not be surprised to see a number of the current free to air stations thinking of encrypting their channels. Well this is not a problem for now and those not yet ready should head out there and buy one of the set top boxes to be safe. The retail price of FTA STBs currently available on local market ranges from Kshs 3,850 to Ksh7,000, averaging at Kshs 5,000. Also check the information on authorized vendors and type approved models of set top boxes available on CA website www.digitalkenya.go.ke
- The second way is to go out and buy a DVB-T2 MPEG 4 integrated digital TV set (idTV) which has an inbuilt set top box and therefore does not require a set top box. It is important to note that this option is most suited to those who can afford it. Most of those tv are high priced and to be precise on average idTV prices are about Kshs5,000 higher than equivalent analogue TVs. And therefore, the target here are the high end consumers. But with all the technologies we have seen around, in coming years the prices will reduce and this most likely will be the preferred choice for many. For that, I would guess that it is just a matter of time before the option one of standalone set top boxes die a natural death. If you can afford them for now, again check out the list of approved idTVs here digitalkenya.go.ke
- The third option is to buy Pay Tv Decoders or Pay Tv Set Top Boxes. Recently Multichoice Kenya subsidized its GOtv set top box by cutting the price from 3,399 to Ksh.1,799 . And that is inclusive of 2 month Gotv Plus subscription. StarTimes on other hand seems to be selling both Pay TV and Free to Air Set Top Boxes. StarTimes Free to Air set top box goes for 4,999 while Pay Television Set top box retails at 2,999 with access to one month Unique bouquet for free worth Ksh. 1,499 with subscribers who renew their subscription before 31stJanuary 2015 enjoying a 50% discount for the subsequent month.