A driver for the Pacific digital transition roadmap

It might have taken four planes and many hours to get from Tonga to the Netherlands, but it was well worth it for Solomone Finau, chief engineer at Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC).

Finau is in charge of virtually all aspects of digital transition for Tonga, and thanks to the CBA IBC bursary, he was able to visit the IBC, one of the world’s largest broadcast equipment and services trade show, in Amsterdam. “This is a milestone opportunity for me, personally and also for the company I represent,” he said, and added that being able to visit the IBC gave him an unparalleled opportunity to see equipment in action for himself, and directly question manufacturers in depth.

Tonga was selected as a pilot country for digital transition in the Pacific, because of its early submission to the ITU, which it has worked with closely to draw up a roadmap for digital transition. Therefore Solomone Finau plays a key role in the whole region for DTT changeover.

TBC started with radio in 1961, but public TV broadcasting only began in 2000. Finau said prior to that, the only free-to-air TV available was a religious channel. Now TBC has two TV channels as well as an MW and an FM radio station. He added that the two TV channels are very popular,  “so now is the best time” to make the changeover.

The transition date is scheduled for next year, and the Polynesian nation has aspects in its favour to make a smooth changeover. Finau said: “With digital transition, we have the advantage of a small population, so it’s easier.” Tonga has a population of 100,000 and there are approximately 9,000 TV households in the country. But there are also hurdles, such as distance – as much as 800km between the most northern and southern islands.

Finau spent the five days at the massive event meeting the likes of transmitter manufacturers and broadcast system developers to help make the right choices on Tonga’s digital transition shopping list. He noted that it was a world away from reading equipment specs over the internet, and a chance for a sneak preview. “Here when you’re face to face, they’ll tell you the secrets… for example, that they are still developing a piece of technology and that it will be ready in three months’ time.”

Tonga has chosen DVB-T2 as its digital standard, and Finau was able to meet with contacts at the DVB stand at IBC, particularly to ask about digital transmission using VHF instead of UHF. Tonga uses the former because of its geography and topography. Within a few minutes experts at the stand were able to cite a Swedish broadcaster who had resolved the same issue, and he was put in touch with them to compare notes. At the meeting it also came up that Tonga was yet to apply for a network identifier for the standard, and again contacts and information were passed on.

“That is the good thing about being here – understanding the standard,” Solomone Finau said.

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