With the digitisation of terrestrial television, Serbia has fulfilled all the requirements and standards of Europe, so in the field of terrestrial digital TV, Serbia is already a full member of the European Union, said Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajić.
At a time when Serbia has difficulty meeting the requirements and standards of the European Union in many areas of life, it has built a network with technical parameters and the kind of digital technology that only a few countries in Europe possess. The tech in question is DVB-T2 technology for the transmission of digital signals and MPEG4 technology for the compression of images and sound, made by one of the largest manufacturers in the world, Rohde & Schwarz from Germany, and device manufacturers Cisco, Ceragon, Harmonic, Nevion, Kathrein.
Most European Union countries are currently switching to this technology, having previously switched to digital television broadcasting using the first, older, generation of digital devices (DVB-T). With this, Serbia has reached the top of Europe, covering 98.3 per cent of the population with a digital signal.
The process of digitisation began in 2010, but most of the work was done in late 2014 and the first half of 2015. Thus endeavour has yielded several important results. Serbia switched over to digital television broadcasting via terrestrial transmitters before the deadline established in Geneva, which was 17th June 2015, and before several other countries in the region. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Romania have yet to complete their digitisation processes.
Moreover, Serbia has built the largest network of digital (DVB-T2) terrestrial television in this part of Europe, which currently has 224 broadcasting stations, equipped with the latest technology for the transmission of TV signals. With 98.37% of the population covered by the digital TV signal, Serbia has reached the peak of Europe, and on state territorial terrestrial television it has more coverage than any other network – satellite, cable or IP TV. Of a total population of 7,186,862, the digital signal can be received via a rooftop- or indoor antenna by 7,069,716 inhabitants (98.37%), which is 242,197 more than the required 95% minimum.
The greatest credit for the achievement of such results goes to the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, and Public Company “Broadcasting Equipment and Communications”, which the Serbian Government established to create conditions and build a network for the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting of TV images and sound.
At a time when Serbia has difficulty meeting the requirements and standards of the European Union in many areas of life, it has built a network with technical parameters and the kind of digital technology that only a few countries in Europe possess
Major problems were linked to the beginning of the process of digitising television. During the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, the largest part of radio and television infrastructure was destroyed – buildings, equipment, antenna poles, transformers, containers. Total damage was estimated to be worth $420 million.
This prompted participants of two conferences of the International Telecommunication Union (Antalya, 2006 and Guadalajara, 2010), to adopt a resolution stating that “public telecommunication facilities in Serbia are severely damaged” and that “the damage inflicted on public broadcasting in Serbia should be a concern of the entire international community, especially ITU” and that, “according to current conditions and in the near future, Serbia will not be able to establish its public telecommunications system to an acceptable level without assistance from the international community, through the provision of funding or international organisations.”
Both resolutions were left without impact. The only assistance Serbia received was a 2010 EU donation for the purchase of digital equipment for the first phase of digitisation, totalling €8 million. As this was not enough, JP ETV also had to take a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, with a guarantee from the Government of the Republic of Serbia, totalling €18 million.
Alongside the provision of loans and the purchase of digital technology, came the restoration, reconstruction or construction of the demolished infrastructure: facilities, buildings, antenna towers, substations, power generators. First, the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications used its own funds to build, reconstruct or restore 25 broadcasting stations of capital importance on the highest mountains, such as Kopaonik, Jastrebac, Avala, Ovcar, Crni, Besna Kobila…Then JP ETV used its own funds, along with EBRD loans, to restore another 140 broadcasting stations.
Renovation and construction of the destroyed infrastructure and the digitisation of terrestrial television have been the biggest job and greatest endeavour in broadcasting equipment and communications since 1924, when Radio Belgrade was founded, and 1958 when the first television broadcast in Serbia was emitted.
That’s because never there has been another time in the history of our radio and television when there were more than 200 different construction or repair locations at the same time throughout Serbia, in extremely difficult weather conditions.
In comparison with other countries of the world, where the digitisation of terrestrial television is completed, Serbia did not have any of the particular problems that troubled other countries. All countries needed quite some time, even a year or two, to test, try out and adjust their installed digital networks, while in Serbia that was done before the official release of the digital signal.
Compared to many projects and activities of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, digitising is one of the most significant, cheapest and most profitable projects in Serbia: the total cost for Serbia was about €40 million, including an EU grant of €10.5 million, and by selling the freed spectrum (digital dividend), the Serbian state earned €126.5 million. The EBRD also supported the digitisation project with a loan of €18 million.
In addition to that, funds from a grant of the Slovakian Government for market and financial due-diligence ensured the funding to hire consultants who worked closely with ETV’s team in implementing the project. At the beginning of 2015, part of the spectrum, in a range of 1,800 megahertz, was sold for €21 million, and a few months later, the digital dividend was sold for €105 million.
Renovation and construction of the destroyed infrastructure and the digitisation of terrestrial television have been the biggest job and greatest endeavour in broadcasting equipment and communications since 1924, when Radio Belgrade was founded, and 1958, when the first television broadcast in Serbia was emitted
Everyone in Serbia today benefits from digitisation. Citizens using a room or rooftop antenna can watch for free, on average, around 15 channels. About 160,000 impoverished citizens received free receivers (set-top boxes – STB) from the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications. More than 100 local and regional TV stations, as well as five national ones, do not have to buy expensive transmitters, repeaters and antennas; furthermore, they do not have to pay charges for their placement and their maintenance, nor are they obliged to pay compensation to RATEL for the use of frequencies.
Serbia, as a country, will not need technological innovation in the field of the broadcasting and transmission of the digital signal for a long time.
Serbia has also, with the aforementioned earnings of €126.5 million, gained the most modern terrestrial television network, and will not be required to invest in new technology and the modernisation of infrastructure for quite some time.
In environmental terms, the gain is immense. In the era of analogue television, power consumption and radiation levels were much higher with digital devices than they are today. All television programmes on the territory of Serbia were broadcast via the analogue network, with over 400 broadcasting stations and with the use of more than 1,000 transmitters, while the digital network broadcasts two transmitters for each of the 224 broadcasting stations.