Turkey has finally begun its migration from analogue to digital terrestrial TV with the publication of licensing guidelines by the broadcasting regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK). The guidelines were published on 17 December. Applicants have until 16 January to apply and the tender process will take place in March. The RTUK will evaluate all applications and will issue an 'Eligibility Certificate' only to those organisations that fulfil all criteria. According to a previous announcement by the government, the country's digital switchover process will be completed by June 2015.
With most of Europe having already completed the tranisition to digital, Turkey is lagging behind, but is in a position to learn from others' mistakes, and make the choice of more future-proof technological standards. Not that Turkey has not had its share of mistakes: the country started its migration policy, at least on paper, back in 2006 when the Telecoms regulator BTK formulated a Digital Television Broadcasting Plan and presented it to the Communications High Council for approval. The plan called for the DTT network to be rolled out in 13 major cities by 2007. Almost five years on, a pilot DTT project has been launched in Istanbul and Ankara transmitting only one multiplex comprising 13 standard definition channels and two high definition ones, but almost nothing has happened apart from the enacting by Parliament in March 2011 of a new law which reviewed the strategy for the introduction of DTT in the country.
Undoubtedly rolling out DTT networks in a country like Turkey is not an easy feat. The country is 800,000 square kilometers in size (more than three times larger than the UK and more than twice as large as Germany) and most of this land is comprised of mountainous terrain. Another example of Turkey's complexities is that while in the case of the UK the network operator, Arqiva, used around 1,154 transmitters sites to cover 99 per cent of population, in the case of Turkey roughly 6,000 transmitters will be used to cover only 90 per cent of population. The government has not presented any plans about covering the final 10 per cent of the population, although a scheme similar to FreeSat in the UK is likely to be chosen.
Turkey's lateness has given the country the luxury to choose the most technologically advanced DTT transmission standard, DVB-T2, a choice that makes the most flexible and efficient use of spectrum while offering the largest number of HD channels per multiplex. Another positive development is the formation of a joint network operator company by the major broadcasters. The joint company was named Anten A.S. and is 70 per cent controlled by the major national commercial broadcasters, 20 per cent by the public broadcaster TRT and the remaining 10 per cent by local and regional commercial broadcasters. RTUK has prepared the final switchover plan which will implemented from March 2013 up to June 2015 on a region-by-region basis. There will be a two-year simulcast period where the broadcasters will gradually switch off their analogue transmissions, giving the necessary time to the general public to be informed about the switchover process and to purchase new equipment. A serious deficiency is that the final frequency map is not yet ready but RTUK has stated that it is preparing it and it will be published by February or March 2013.
The government is planning to introduce a special organisation to oversee the implementation of the switchover plan and to co-ordinate the migration process with the broadcasters and network operator as well as to inform the public, following in the steps of the very successful Digital UK. The licensing process involves both regulators: BTK is responsible for allocating the frequency bands for all telecommunication services including broadcasting and will grant permissions to providers of electronic communications services and/or networks, including the DTT network operator Anten A.S.). The RTUK is responsible for granting the licences to the channel and content providers. Each DTT broadcasting licence has a duration of 10 years, and will therefore be valid until 2023.
There will be eight multiplexes in total: one will be assigned to TRT, one to local and regional broadcasters and six to the major national commercial broadcasters. Turkey's frequency plan excludes the UHF channels 61 to 69 (the 790-862 MHz Band) from digital terrestrial broadcasting. According to RTUK these frequencies (the so-called digital dividend) will be auctioned and used for mobile communications services, although at the moment no final decisions have been taken.
Turkey's road to digital migration is not going to be easy. Apart from the rather tight time-frame of only two years and the difficulties posed by the rugged terrain, another issue of major concern will be the bilateral frequency co-ordination agreements with Turkey's neighbouring countries which may not necessarily run smoothly with partners like Syria and Iran or even Russia and the Ukraine. The recent World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-2012) proposal to assign more UHF spectrum previously used by broadcasters for mobile communications (the so called Digital Dividend 2.0 which comprises the frequencies from 790 to 694 MHz) will add further complexity to Turkey's Digital Transition path.