Sunday Mail Reporters
\nGovernment last week shelled out US$900 000 to secure satellite access from a European service provider in a deal that will guarantee Zimbabwe universal availability of digital broadcasting for a year. This marks the first time that the country has accomplished universal access to satellite broadcasting, which ensures potential digital services to all households countrywide.

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The deal will also see Government — through the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe — purchase 400 000 set-top boxes from a Chinese manufacturer selected by principal project contractor, global technological giant Huawei.

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Government has so far spent US$22 million on the digitalisation project, which is set to become universal before year-end.
\nIn an interview with The Sunday Mail yesterday, Secretary for Media, Information and Broadcasting Services Mr George Charamba said the entire country could now have access to digital broadcasting.

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He said the country could now test transmitters installed at five sites. Zimbabwe has 24 digital transmitters.
\n“We have now finished installing uplink facility and we are now ready to test that those pieces of equipment,” said Mr Charamba. “Your uplink is what sends signals from the studio to the satellite, which bounces it back to the Earth.

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“On Thursday last week, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe paid for a transponder to a satellite agency called Eutelsat and the payment is to the tune of US$900 000 for a year — that’s how expensive it is.

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“This means we can now use satellite for broadcasting purposes continuously for whole year and that means we can now test the equipment. Already we have five transmitters which can shortly be activated if we so wished once we have completed the relevant tests since we have satellite access.

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“That gives you an idea what it will cost Zimbabwe to continue to use satellite to distribute broadcast signal. It will mean every year we will pay US$1,2 million, because for first-time users there is a discount but proceeding the price will be US$1,2 million.”

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He said unlike in the past, Zimbabwe would outsource satellite services from a South African agent whenever the country required to broadcast digitally.

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“Zimbabwe used to hire satellite space for specific events, for instance when we had the galas. Now its permanent’, which means the issue of having a signal reaching every corner of the country is no longer an issue.

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“With that capacity we can now boast of universal presence of the signal. The only challenge now is to convert universal presence into universal access. Potentially, the signal is now countrywide.

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“The signal is now available the key thing is to now make it accessible. This is where the issue of set-top boxes (STBs) comes into the picture. That is our next challenge.

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“I am fresh from China where we toured a potential supplier of STBs who was chosen by the contractor, Huawei. The contractor requires a down payment of US$1,8 million and the lead time between manufacturing and supply is three months. We have put an order of 400 000 set-top boxes which will translate to about US$18 million.”

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Mr Charamba said NetOne had been initially allocated the frequencies but lost the rights after it failed to raise the required US$200 million.
\n“They were supposed to pay US$4 million to the RBZ as a deposit and the expectation was that by this time money would be flowing from NetOne to RBZ to BAZ and then to the contractor.”

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Next week, The Sunday Mail publishes the full text of Mr Charamba’s interview on digitalisation