[opendtv] Finland's DTV Transition Lesson

  • From: "Manfredi, Albert E" <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 17 Nov 2008 16:35:53 -0500

Interesting article. It shows that FCC testing, for one, was a good
idea. It also indicates that having to plan so soon for a second
transition, to HDTV this time, may well create some public discontent.
(Like, you think?) So they'll put it off a few more years.

My colleague at work just converted his mother-in-law to DTT this
weekend. He said she had been getting by with "painfully bad" analog
reception for years, with rabbit ear antenna. Apparently, a nearby water
tower creates a lot of ghost.

Luckily, her fireplace faces in the correct direction for the major Wash
and Balt transmitters, and she doesn't use it to build fires. He set her
up with a DB4 antenna and a CECB, tried the antenna in the fireplace as
I told him I had done, and she now gets solid reception of some 24
channels. He says the Baltimore channels come in too. He was not able to
receive the two oddball stations toward the west with the current setup.



Finland's DTV Transition Lesson

by Ian MacSpadden

WASHINGTON Mikael Jungner, the director general of the Finnish
broadcasting company YLE, claims that "out of 2.5 million households in
Finland, only 32 are unable to receive a digital broadcast signal

Jungner described Finland's remarkable transition to digital TV while
appearing at the National Press Club Newsmaker event here last month.
The transition is particularly significant because Finland only just
terminated all analog broadcasts a mere seven months ago, becoming one
of the first countries in the world to complete the transition from
analog to digital broadcasting.
Mikael Jungner discussed Finland's DTV transition at the National Press
Club in Washington, D.C., last month.

Jungner and a delegation from YLE recently spent a week visiting with
U.S. broadcasters and staff from the FCC, sharing their experiences in
making the transition to digital. They discussed the technical
challenges of implementing a nationwide system and the difficulties they
encountered in migrating an entire population to a new technology. The
lessons they learned along the way could prove to be helpful both to
U.S. broadcasters as well as manufacturers who serve American consumers.


The majority of the Finnish population receive their TV signals from an
even split between terrestrial broadcasting and cable. In 1996 the
Finnish government made the decision to pursue digital broadcasting, and
soon thereafter began to set a timetable for the transition.

"The motivation of the government in making its decision was to provide
a more versatile program to the public, more effective use of the scarce
frequency resources, and improved technical quality with value added
services," said Kari Mokko, press secretary and spokesman for the
embassy of Finland.

Home of global cell phone leader Nokia, Finland had in-country
technology resources to draw upon for its planning. Finnish broadcasting
is run much the same way as the BBC in the U.K.; its revenue is based on
a license fee paid by users. To raise the necessary capital for its new
vision, YLE sold its distribution systems to a French company called
Digita Oy and now leases access to the system.

"Digita began construction in 1999 on the first stage of the digital
network, and by 2000 they were broadcasting in Helsinki, Tampere, and
Turku in both analog and digital," said Jorma Laiho, technical director
for YLE.

By the end of 2001, 72 percent of the population could receive the
signals and by 2004 it reached 94 percent of the population.

The Finnish government resolved in March 2004 to switch to digital and
announced that analog broadcasting would cease on August 31, 2007.
Unlike in the U.S., the Finnish cable system had a mandatory switchover
date six months later to guarantee that all services were available to
everyone, independent of the distribution method.


"In the early stages the industry took the lead in informing the public,
but about two years before the transition, the government intensified
its activities alongside industry," Mokki said.

YLE's Jungner informed those in attendance at the National Press Club,
"Only about half the population went voluntarily; the other half had to
be pushed. We had a large portion of our viewers who said that they
would rather give up TV than buy a box or new set. In the end, less than
one percent actually did."

Jungner humorously compared digital TV adopters to Christmas shoppers,
saying how some people went out early and got their set-top boxes, some
waited until the last minute, and still others waited until after the
transition was finalized.

Unlike the U.S. government, Finland did not subsidize the set-top boxes,
a factor that caused resentment with the public, and which concerned the
YLE regarding its lower- and fixed-income viewers.

To help solve this problem, YLE enlisted the help of nongovernmental
organizations and charities.

YLE and government officials were also concerned that their messages
were not reaching everyone. "Lots of information was given out to the
public through all available media, but there were still people who felt
that they were being left in the dark, namely the elderly and those in
remote locations," said Mokki.

To solve the problem, executives at YLE adopted a unique approach-they
personalized the project. In a move we'd be unlikely to see here in the
United States, YLE's director general personally took to the streets to
convince the public this was the right choice at the right time.

Jungner put both his name and reputation behind the project. He did it
"partly to help convince the people that this was indeed the right
choice, but also to insulate YLE in case something did go wrong,"
Jungner explained. Fortunately for him, the transition was deemed a
success by all involved.


The Finns provided a long window of simulcasting in both analog and
digital even though it was very expensive for them to do so. The
pay-off, however, was worth it. It enabled them to work out the bugs in
the distribution and reception systems in advance.

They had some issues with shadow areas that could not receive the new
signals, but the biggest challenge was the set-top boxes. "YLE was using
DVB subtitling which gave more options but also more technical
problems," said Mokki.

Jungner explained that the government had not thought to approve or test
set-top boxes, so manufacturers ended up flooding the market with
inexpensive devices that didn't work.

Since much of what is broadcast in Finland has subtitles, the failure of
this system and audio sync issues angered many consumers. YLE eventually
tested the devices and published their findings on their Web site. It
was not an endorsement, which they felt they could not do, but it did
provide guidance to the public.

"One benefit to the digital transition that we did not expect was the
boom in consumer spending for new equipment," said Jungner. "Once the
consumer made the decision to get the box, they then often opted for
more equipment such as a DVR, and in many cases they also upgraded the
TV to a flat panel as well," he said. In fact, sales of flat panel
televisions soared after the transition, and today three in four sets in
use in Finland are digital flat panel models.


Finland is already looking ahead to the next transition. "MPEG-4
distribution and HD will be our next move," Jungner said.

YLE initially contemplated making the next transition around 2012, but
plans to wait until 2016, a timeframe that will both allow the consumer
to get the value out of their recent purchases, as well as let the
technology mature.

"Consumers just purchased new equipment, so telling them they have to do
it again in four years would not work," said Jungner. "There may also be
new technologies that come about in this time frame that we may want to

YLE is already making 60 percent of its broadcast material available to
broadband users. Jungner believes that broadband distribution will
increase greatly in coming years, but he feels that until such
high-speed access is cheaper and accessible to everyone, most people
will rely on the traditional methods of broadcast, cable, and satellite.

When asked about the future of mobile TV, Jungner said "YLE sees mobile
devices as more of an area to grow our radio programming and podcast
business. The screen is too small to ever fully replace the in-home
viewing experience."


"We are happy and relieved that it is over," said Mokki. "The whole
process was extremely educational. We learned a lot about the power of
cooperation and we will apply these lessons as we move forward and
eventually transition to HD."

"Setting the date was the most important thing," said Jungner about
planning for a transition. "This time though, we will test the set-top
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