WITH her two-year old son strapped to her back and a bucket full of water on her head, Anjela Salongo slowly climbs the steep footpath from Kisanja river to her home, about 600 metres up hill. Then her mobile phone rings. Her mother asks her to hurry up as the village nurse, on her regular weekly rounds, was ready to administer an important vaccination to the child. Anjela is among the numerous villagers who have found the mobile phone an inseparable companion.
At times it exerts financial pressures, as constant use means regular air time topping up. Some of the villagers receive donations transferred by working relatives. Mobile phone services are provided by eight mobile phone companies. They are Vodacom, Airtel, MIC Tanzania which trades as Tigo, Zanzibar Telecoms- ZANTEL, Dovetel with the Sasatel brand, Benson Online (BOL) and the Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL).
The use of mobile phones in Tanzania has seen an upswing from less than 100,000 subscribers in 2000 to 22,000,000 subscribers in 2011, according to the Director General of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, Professor John Nkoma. The figure is based on SIM cards sold. Internet users have increased from 25,000 in 1999 to about five million in 2011. Radio stations have increased from 1 in 1993 to 79 in 2011.
There are now 26 television stations in Tanzania, a 100 per cent increase from 1993 when there was none. As a regulator, TCRA has successfully handled many challenges, one being the issue of interconnection rates among mobile telephone companies.
National strategies to promote the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) have won Tanzania international respect.
The United Nations agency for the development of ICTs, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently awarded Tanzania for its efforts. For networks to function seamlessly, a system must be put in place to manage the two important resources in communications – the frequency spectrum and numbering. In simple terms, when two equipments connect wirelessly, spectrum is used, whether at very low or high frequency. For example, spectrum is involved when you use your mobile phone or your remote to manipulate your electronic instruments or to open your car door.
It is therefore allocated for a variety of uses and has to be regulated to ensure efficient use and to prevent interference. The numbers that we use are a resource which is managed to ensure seamless communication. For example, through the national numbering plan introduced by TCRA, subscribers in any mobile network may access call centres, make balance inquiries, and top up airtime using the same number for all networks.
There are countries where each network has its own number for these services. But perhaps one of the most challenging undertaking in the ICT sector in Tanzania is the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting, with December this year being the switch off date. So far TCRA has licensed three multiplex operators: Star times, Agape Associates and Basic Transmission Limited. Terrestrial broadcasting services, especially free on air, the world over have been largely operating on analogue technology since 1920’s.
In 1996 the UN agency responsible for ICTs, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) set up a Task Group which recommended the adoption of digital technology for broadcasting. The digital plan was adopted in 2006 and the deadline for countries to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting was set for June 2015. Tanzania as part of the ITU family had no choice but to resolve to change its broadcasting system from analogue to digital broadcasting.
As part of preparing the country to enter into this new phase of broadcasting, TCRA developed two consultation documents which were submitted to stakeholders in 2005 and 2006 respectively for discussion. The Authority has launched an awareness campaign to educate the public on the advantages and implications of the migration to digital broadcasting. President Jakaya Kikwete launched the campaign, known as Digital Tanzania in August 2011. Digital technology is more efficient as it allows broadcast stations to offer improved picture and sound quality.
It offers more programming options for consumers through multiple broadcast streams. Analogue transmissions tie up more frequencies than digital; hence some of the freed up frequencies will be used for advanced commercial wireless services and public safety communications such as the police, fire and emergency rescue services. Digital television offers better pictures and sound. It allows for new enhanced and interactive services, offering a richer and more active viewing experience.
Quality is another hallmark of digital television. It offers a wide range of high quality channels and services, some free-to-view, some subscription. Digital television can also provide households with interactive services and the possibility of access to the Internet using their television sets. It will also be possible to access digital services, banking services and other electronic applications through television sets. The TCRA public awareness programme will address consumer concerns. For example owners of analogue television sets will not have to worry about this migration since they will receive digital signals by connecting a set top box to their sets. Set top boxes are also refered to as decoders.