Analogue transmissions still power the majority of world broadcasts

The global transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting began over a decade ago, but some markets are still analogue. Find out where, here.

Analogue transmissions still power the majority of world broadcasts
Analogue transmissions still power the majority of world broadcasts

The global transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting began over a decade ago and completed in markets like Germany and the UK by 2012, yet switchover is far from an international clean sweep. Communities in many countries, and in some cases whole populations, still are reliant on analogue services.

What countries still have analogue TV stations?

According to the DVB, from a database of DVB, EBU and BNE members, analogue switch-off (ASO) has taken place in 35% of countries, accounting for just over 21% of the world's population. This means that analogue TV is still on air in 65% of countries.

The majority of these are rural and poorer areas in places like Sub-Saharan Africa where only 23% have completed ASO. The corresponding figure for ITU Region 2 (Americas) is 9% and for Region 3 (Asia-Pacific) is 16%. In Europe (based on the 48 CEPT countries), 81% have completed ASO.

The US contains the most remarkable case. Here are audiences watching over-the-air television from TV translators or Low Power TV (LPTV) stations. Many of these stations do operate in rural areas, but also within larger urban areas, and serve minority or other specialized audiences such as houses of worship and religious groups, high schools and colleges, local governments, small businesses and even individual citizens.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the LPTV service in 1982 to provide opportunities for locally-oriented television services in small communities. According to the FCC, this provided a means of local self-expression, and permitted fuller use of the broadcast spectrum.

Programming includes satellite-delivered services, movies, syndicated content and a wide range of locally-produced programmes. LPTV stations sometimes tailor segments or entire schedules to specific viewer groups on the basis of age, language or particular interest.

What analogue TV stations are still broadcasting?

Although the US Congress established a hard deadline of June 12, 2009, for full power TV stations to cease analogue broadcasts and begin operating only in digital, and the Commission set a transition date of September 1st, 2015, for Class A broadcasters to complete their transition, neither of these deadlines applied to LPTV stations which continue to transmit analogue signals.

The FCC has now given a new deadline of July 2021 for these stations to complete their digital transition. This allows time for completion of the Commission’s incentive auction, which involves a repacking process that will displace some LPTV stations.

On the technical side, LPTV stations transmit on one of the standard VHF (2-13) or UHF (14-51) channels and are limited to an effective radiated power of 3 kilowatts (VHF) and 150 kilowatts (UHF). The distance at which a station can be viewed depends on a variety of factors - antenna height, transmitter power, transmitting antenna and the nature of the environment (rural or urban, hilly or flat terrain).

The FCC is sensitive to marginalising this thriving group of LPTV stations operated by diverse groups and organisations. Stations will therefore have the opportunity to seek either an on-channel digital conversion of their existing analogue facilities or may construct and operate a second ‘digital companion channel’ during the remainder of the digital transition. However, all LPTV stations will be required to decide a single digital channel to continue to operate after the final transition date.

In the US then, digital LPTV solutions will remain an alternative to DVB as a means to DTT broadcasting for the foreseeable future, but in countries with a less mature communications infrastructure analogue transmissions will be a mainstay most likely until the state intervenes with financial help to enable switchover.

What is the future of analogue television?

Of those countries that have not completed ASO, around 20 have announced plans to do so in 2019/2020 including China (which uses its own DTMB system), but according to the DVB, in some of those cases further slippage can be expected. Notably, India (where there are DVB-T2 services on air in around 20 cities) has not announced an official date for ASO.

Ensure optimum performance, whether analogue or digital

Rohde & Schwarz TV transmitters are ensuring analogue and DTT transmission service quality worldwide.

The R&S TLU9 transmitter and GapFiller range, in particular, offers the highest availability in its power class and performance which cuts energy costs by a quarter – two pre-requisites for continuing reception of TV signals among minority and rural communities everywhere. Learn more about our low power uhf tv transmitters online today.

Posted by Adrian Pennington, technology journalist. May 20, 2019.

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