Interview with Simon Aghajanyan, the head of the working group on technical issues of the Interdepartmental Commission on Implementation of Digital TV and Radio Broadcasting in the territory of Armenia.
Mr. Aghajanyan, what are the phases of the digitization process?
The program to introduce digital TV and radio broadcasting can be broken down into 5 main phases:
1. Development and approval of the concept, regulation of the legal framework, development and approval of national standards, and development and approval of technical financial-economic scenarios in the plan to introduce digital TV and radio broadcasting
2. Implementation of project work and stemming from that, preparation of a working documents package
3. Creation of digital network, debugging and testing
4. Simultaneous analog and digital broadcasting
5. Shutting off analog broadcasting
It’s necessary to note that creating the national digital broadcasting network will be implemented in phases. It is expected that the digital broadcasting network, in the first phase, will be constructed in Yerevan and the marzes (provinces) of Armavir, Kotayk, Ararat and Aragatsotn; in the second, Gegharkunik, Lori, Shirak and Tavush marzes; and in the third, Vayots Dzor and Syunik.
What is the main difference between digital and analog broadcasting?
The main advantage of digital broadcasting is the opportunity for intense use of frequency. In analog broadcasting, one program can be broadcast on each allocated channel. In digital broadcasting, broadcast on a single frequency can be an entire package of TV channels (multiplex), in which can be included 6–20 TV programs, depending on the applicable standards of compression and clarity (MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 and SDTV or HDTV). Moreover, digital broadcasting offers a better quality image and interactive capabilities.
In this case, why did the number of TV channels decrease?
The 18 TV programs broadcast from Yerevan, which will be broadcast over an analog signal till 2015, will use 18 frequencies. The 4 “freed up” channels will be provided for broadcasting 4 multiplexes (three from Yerevan, one national) on a digital signal. From Jan. 1, 2015, when analog broadcasting will cease, each channel that has become free will be able to broadcast an entire package of TV programs (multiplex), which, depending on market demand, can be made up of 6–10 TV programs. That is, when the analog signal for those 18 TV channels is shut off, 18 available frequencies will come about — on each of which 6–10 TV programs can be broadcast. [Some refer to the ability to offer multiple program choices as “multicasting”; it allows broadcast stations to offer several channels of digital programming at the same time, using the same amount of spectrum required for one analog program.]
How many frequencies are there in the Republic of Armenia?
Under the International Telecommunication Union GE 06 Plan, the Republic of Armenia was allocated 43 frequencies for digital broadcasting. According to this Plan, Armenia is divided into 9 broadcasting corridors, and a certain number of channels are fixed for each broadcasting area. So, with the frequency allocated to Shirak marz, it won’t be possible to broadcast in the Ararat valley. For the 277 broadcast areas of these 43 frequencies, which include Yerevan, Armavir marz, Aragatsotn, a portion of Ararat and Kotayk marzes, only 11 frequences have been allocated for digital broadcasting.
What do TV viewers need to transition to digital broadcasting?
If the television was made before 2005, TV viewers will have to acquire a digital-to-analog converter box, the cost of which is about $20 US dollars. Television sets made after 2005 already have this box within them. Thus, those having such TV sets don’t need to acquire any additional equipment. For socially vulnerable families, the state will cover expenses of acquiring digital-to-analog converter boxes and antenna cable systems. Also being discussed is the possibility of organizing production of these units in Armenia. Necessary explanatory information will be regularly conveyed to the public through information pamphlets. In addition, service and information centers will be established in Yerevan and all the regions.
When is the final deadline for transitioining to digital broadcasting?
For all participating countries in the International Telecommunication Union, the final deadline for digitization is 2015. From Jan. 1, 2015, analog broadcasting will be shut off and we will have completely transitioned to digital broadcasting. This refers to both radio and television.
When is the digitization for radio expected?
The process of digitizing radio will begin in 2013. This is a more complicated process than the digitization of television. One of the main reasons for this is, in order to receive the digital signal for the television that we have, we need only to acquire a digital-to-analog converter box, while for receiving a digital radio signal, a digital radio receiver must be purchased, since digital-to-analog converter boxes for analog radio receivers have not yet been developed. If you ask the population today, few would say they would definitely purchase a digital radio receiver in order to listen to digital radio, especially since there will be four radio programs on each of those four multiplexes, which one can listen to by television. In any case, the population will not be without radio.
How will the issue of the emergence of new TVs be regulated after 2015?
As noted in the transitional provisions of the RA Law on Television and Radio, until Jan. 1, 2015, licensing terms and conditions for multiplexes for the creation of a specific network for digital broadcasting will be defined by law by legal persons. It will allow, beginning from 2015 and based on market demand, for digital broadcasting networks to be privately built and new private multiplexes to be created, with the inclusion of many new TV programs.
Interview by Anna Barseghyan