Timeline: ISDB-T in the Philippines

It was really a long journey, and you could imagine then the frustration eh, ang tagal…

After the Philippine Government endorsed the Japanese Integrated Services for Digital Broadcasting (ISDB-T) standard and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) preparing to release the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the standard, the countdown is now running for the Philippines to join the ranks of other countries in the world in launching Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasts.

With Digital TV over ISDB-T, More and more people will now be able to witness and see clearer picture quality, crisper digital audio and a robust broadcast signal that only requires lower power than the current analog standard. Not only that, with the current standard that the country will use, the promise of faster emergency response, via the Emergency Warning Broadcast System or EWBS, will now come in fruition, especially that the country is always plagued by earthquakes and typhoons.

 

As part of our commitment to serve our readers and to enlighten us on the history on how ISDB-T became the country’s standard in Digital Terrestrial Television, DTV Pilipinas interviewed Engr. James Rodney Santiago, the Association of Radio Industries and Broadcasters (ARIB) Consultant and was the lead proponent in pushing the Japanese standard into Filipino Homes.

Engr. Santiago, together with his team, has fought for more than 7 years in pushing for the ISDB-T Standard to become the Philippines’ Official Terrestrial Digital standard because of its features and the promise of the EWBS, a fact that even President Aquino took notice when he announced during a state visit that the Philippines is going for ISDB-T as the official Terrestrial standard.

Amid the proposals and the promises made by the representatives of the other DTT Standards, notably, DVB-T2, in the end, ISDB-T decisively convinced the NTC in its review to be the most suited standard for the country.

He now explains to DTV Pilipinas a war which he waged on for almost 10 years, with allies gained, enemies emerged, but on the last moment, his team made the last laugh

“It was really a long journey, and you could imagine then the frustration eh, ang tagal, in fact, we released the (first) Memorandum Circular in 2010 na putting us at par with other Asian nations when it comes to shifting to digital” Engr. Santiago said when asked about his reaction that the Philippines has adopted the ISDB-T standard after an intense effort for the ISDB-T standard to become the official standard for the country.

 

Engr. Santiago then relates the history of how the process of how ISDB-T was introduced in the country, which started in 2006 where the Philippines was already considering DVB-T as the official TV standard.

According to him, As early as 2003, there were already small clusters of broadcasters who were studying the different digital TV systems in the country for possible adoption and implementation, but the research made by the first cluster, called the first Technical Working Group, or TWG-1, was nullified because the NTC and the smaller networks thought the larger broadcasters controlled and manipulated the study.

“In 2005, merong study na nangyari sa digitization ng broadcast, at that time hindi kasama ang ISDB-T, it’s purely ATSC vs DVB-T, now, in one of the conferences in Malaysia, the ASEAN Digital Broadcast conference, Pumunta ako along with Engr. Antonio Leduna, we’re both from GMA at that time and Engr. Rich Onipon, so merong booth doon ang NHK, finefeature nila ang ISDB-T, so we engaged in a conversation nung Japanese engineer doon, and akala nila that time, DVB-T na ang Pilipinas and they were planning to start the promotions pala. So nagkaroon ng mga exchange ng information, mga ganyan, and that was in 2006.”

In 2007, three broadcast engineers, which included Engr. Santiago and two engineers from the two top networks, were sent then to Japan as visiting researchers to study the Japanese Digital TV standard, and in the three months that they were trained on the technology, They were convinced that the ISDB-T standard is and will be the perfect fit for the country.

“We had a one year training program there for Digital (TV), and we finished our research in three months, nagmamadali na rin kaming umuwi kasi mahirap na, baka matapos na yung study sa Pilipinas. Remember we’re talking here about 2007, so we were rushing, kaya umuwi kami para maiexplain kaagad yung what we have learned, and we found out the superiority of ISDB-T” Engr. Santiago said.

In 2008, a Second Technical Working Group was convened to further decide on the digital TV standard. It was not until 2010 that the 2nd TWG finally decided on the ISDB-T technology.

At first, the engineering fraternity didn’t like the ISDB-T standard, but he worked hard alongside the Japanese technical consultants to fight for the ISDB-T standard until they were convinced later.

And it took another three years before the NTC finally issued a second Memorandum Circular, which this time, finally reconfirmed ISDB-T as the sole Digital Terrestrial TV Standard.

Despite the fact that there was a resurge of the European lobby to push for the more modern DVB-T2 standard, still, the Technical Working Group favored ISDB-T over DVB-T2 because of the suitability of the standard to the Philippine setting.

“We being a tropical country, we get hit by 20-25 typhoons a year, that’s regular, plus yung mga surprise na flooding and landslide. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, yun random na yun hindi na natin macocontrol yun, so we needed it more, the Emergency Warning Broadcast System, that is proven and essential component of the technology, not as an option. Kasi some standards, they would claim that they have the capability to do that, then if you’re capable, why are you not using it? And it is not even part of the receivers, so parang sinabi mo may kotse ako na pwedeng lumipad, so pwede palang lumipad bakit hindi mo lagyan ng jet engine or  propeller? Parang ganun di ba. So if you say something that is a part of your technology, make sure that when you utilize it, it’s there.”  said Engr. Santiago on the suitability of ISDB-T over other digital TV standards.

The second TWG that was convened were divided into clusters which discuss about the different specifications of the ISDB-T system, which included Video and Audio coding, Transmission, Frequency planning, and even legal matters as well.

“Everybody got involved, even stakeholders, even DOST, NEDA, PAGASA, everybody was called na para no doubts. “ Added Engr. Santiago.

 

He then discusses why the ATSC and the DVB-T2 standards were not suitable for the Philippine setting. In ATSC, as opposed to the DVB-T standard the country first considered,  he says, the standard only resembled the current analog broadcast standard that the country is using, which is NTSC.

“Ang very flagrant sa difference ng technology is that ATSC is very similar to Analog, Single Carrier, when we say Single Carrier, iisa lang ang lalagyan, para siyang Bus, Yung Bus nahulog sa bangin, so lahat ng pasahero with existing information, mawawala lahat yun, patay yun, unlike doon sa DVB-T, OFDM sya, multiple carrier sya, so let’s say 100 kotse, may nahulog man na dalawang kotse, may makukuha ka pa ring information. So doon sa DVB-T, it’s more robust than ATSC, mas matibay signal and even for mobile, pupwede, ATSC, at that time, hindi pa pupwede, so yun yung defeating part of ATSC. The only advantage of ATSC at that time was Full High Definition ang specs nya, this is 1998 ah, si DVB-T, ang ipinopromote nya is Multichannel Standard definition from the beginning” Engr. Santiago said.

Meanwhile, on DVB-T2, as opposed to ISDB-T, the economics and the suitability won the ISDB-T standard over the much more expensive DVB-T2 standard.

“Sa ISDB-T kasi, yung essential feature nya, is sufficient to address the needs of the Philippines and thus, it is the opinion of the other countries that chose ISDB-T against DVB-T2.  One, DVB-T2 is very very expensive, so, mas ma-aafford lang sya ng mayaman. And when it comes to technology, you do not want to deprive the poor people of the capability to get good programs, other features and warnings just because you’re poor, you cannot buy the receiver, you die? That’s not fair”, Engr. Santiago stressed.

 

Engr. Santiago says that although the Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia to use the ISDB-T standard, the country undertook the rigorous legal and technical process for the ISDB-T standard to be considered, something other countries in the region did not do.

“We had from 2003 to 2013, a very long process of checking not only technical, but economic and legal implications, including of course, disaster preparedness. So the long process that we made, I can say confidently, that we are more careful, and more tedious in studying the standards.” Engr. Santiago said.

He also added that it is impossible for the Asia-Pacific Broadcasters Union (ABU) to have a single standard for the Asian region, because of the different circumstances necessitated for every single country in the region.

 

The Japanese government, through the Digital Broadcast Experts Group (DiBEG) and the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), were pushing for the country to have the most modern version of the standard, which is the fusion of the Japanese standard and the South American SBTVD Standard, which was based on ISDB-T, adding that the Japanese consultants are excited for the recent developments.

ARIB and MIC is pushing for the Philippines to have the most modern version of ISDB-T, so what will be using is the best of both worlds, the Japanese standard and the version in South America, and at the end of the day, we will have the best version of ISDB-T. And they’re very excited about it, why? PH is very close, and they love the PH, and they want to stay and work here, plus yung ugali ng Pilipino gustong gusto ng mga Japanese.  We are Asians, mutual understanding, very important” Engr. Santiago said.

 

With the networks entailing additional, if not significant, investments over the digitization of their broadcast and transmission equipment, Engr. Santiago says that although there will be investments in digitizing their equipment, it would only be the same investment that they entailed when they were transmitting in analog, but because of efficiency and the reduction of transmitter power, can reduce their operational costs.

“Sa digital kasi, kung iniisip nila is we need to invest on transmission, which is the same investment that they are doing with their analog…. It’s the same investment.  Next is, yung efficiency of digital transmission, they could reduce [their transmitter power] by at least 1/10, so for a network transmitting at 50 kilowatts now, with a 5 kilowatt digital transmission, they cover the same, with greater quality! It’s a no-brainer here, reducing operating expenses.” Engr. Santiago said.

He says that a digital transmitter running at 5 kw will cover the same radius as an analog 50 kw transmitter, with a possible wider reach than the current analog signal

“To give you an example, when (PTV) Channel 4 was transmitting 1 kilowatt from Quezon City, and that one kilowatt was transmitting from Quezon City to Tagaytay, and that was 62 kilometers away, And for an analog network to have clear picture at such distance, they would need to have at least 50-60 kilowatts. It’s not even one –tenth of the transmission of digital” Engr. Santiago said, explaining an early test made during the Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) Top Level Management Conference in 2008, PTV, then called NBN 4, transmitted an HD signal from its studios in Quezon City to the Taal Vista Hotel, the site of the conference, in Tagaytay City.

Engr. Santiago further recommends that the maximum transmitter power for digital transmission should not go beyond 10 kilowatts.

“10 (kilowatts) is more than enough” He said.

He also suggested that the networks should make public their transmitter locations so that viewers can properly align their antennas to get a crisp digital TV signal.

 

Unanimous decision

Unanimous decision to adopt ISDB-T as the sole Digital TV standard for the Philippines

 

Everybody got involved, even stakeholders, even DOST, NEDA, PAGASA, everybody was called na para no doubts.

 

On the main issue of the Digital shutdown and migration, which was originally proposed for December 31, 2015, Engr. Santiago believes that the current deadline is not feasible anymore.

“If we have proceeded in 2010, the first release of the Memorandum Circular. 2015 is easy” Engr. Santiago said.

But if the IRR is released within the final months of 2014 or in early 2015, there is a possibility of a faster shutdown period because of the people being interested in the technology, thereby fueling demand for the receivers.

“.And once there is a certain level of deployment na, let’s say mga 70 to 80 percent of the population in a specific area that has the receiver already, then that’s a good time to shut off the analog because everybody is ready for digital” Engr. Santiago said.

He says that there will be different receivers that will be offered to the consumers, and it includes fixed receivers, mobile receivers, set-top boxes and Television sets with built-in receivers. He also added that a lot of companies are now starting their production for the devices, which include Sharp Electronics and DX Antenna, to name a few.

Sharp has opened their production line nya sa receivers and set top boxes, yung mga simple receivers na ilalagay sa TV. Si Mitsumi, yung factory sa Bataan at Cebu, they will hire more for the next production line. DX Antenna is already located in Laguna and they’re already preparing to start the production of good quality antennas. “ Engr. Santiago said.

He adds that Eagle World Development Co. Ltd. (EWD_,  one of the manufacturers of ISDB-T compliant devices, is planning to set-up a factory in Tacloban to provide employment to the people affected by the Super-typhoon Yolanda,

He then stressed that other vendors are also encouraged to release affordable devices, as long as it is compliant to the ISDB-T standards in the country. He also encourages the audience to buy receivers made in the Philippines.

“[We should] patronize [receivers made in the Philippines] because this is the one na ginawa ng kamay ng Pilipino na sumusweldo. This will encourage the companies na dito kayo magtayo ng factory.” Engr. Santiago said.

He also says that at first may be a little bit expensive in the beginning, but in the long run, when the standard is established, prices of receivers and tuners will go down as well.

 

Engr. Santiago also says that the ISDB-T system is a future-ready system, ready to meet the challenges of future broadcast trends like 4K Television and 3D broadcasts while providing the same level of reliability of service to the nation.

ISDB-T will be able to accommodate those services. It has been proven already in Tokyo with some experimentation. They transmitted 4K in a small environment using the regular ISDB-T and it worked, so we can be assured that for the coming decades, ISDB-T will be there to provide the good quality services to our people…. we are assured that we will stick with the specifications and provide reliable service to the people, [In short, it is] future proof. “ Engr. Santiago said .

He also is firm on the issues of encryption in the ISDB-T standard, saying that the Implementing Rules and Regulations will not include or discuss any form of conditional access that would promote exclusivity among the networks.

“No, the IRR that will be released will not discuss or include any topic about conditional access so it will be open. We do not want to prevent, let’s say you have box letter A prevents the reception of signal B, so it must be open, that is 100 percent sure, no CA on the initial MC or IRR. If there will be CA then it will be subject to further discussion, a lengthy discussion a year or two, the least. “, Engr. Santiago stressed, adding that there is no such thing as a “Pay-to-Watch” model for digital terrestrial TV, which traditionally is Free-to-Air.

 

Further, Engr. Santiago said that the Philippines will not implement a Single-Frequency Network (SFN) scheme for the whole country, because of the topography of the country which is an archipelago.

“For example, in Luzon, you have one SFN; in Visayas, you can have another SFN in a different frequency.   The logic there is because we are an archipelagic country. If we have complete flatlands all over the nation then it makes sense to have one SFN all over the country. But we are an inter-island country, so we treat it as per-region” Engr. Santiago explained.

He also said  that the networks can implement a combination of both a Single-Frequency Network (SFN) and Multi-Frequency Network (MFN) under the UHF 470-700 MHz (Channel 14-51) band range.

 

On the issue of Virtual Channels, The networks will have to secure permits to the NTC for them to have a virtual channel or a Service ID, which will be important because it will determine the number of services that they will provide.

Engr. Santiago then explained the possible configurations of our country’s Digital Terrestrial Standard, which could lead the way for possible options for multiple broadcasting channels over one frequency.

“So First, for purely SD operations, you can put eight (channels) plus two handheld (1seg). One HD (channel) and Four SD and 2 1seg and for pure HD operations, you can have Two HD and Two 1seg…. So if we count it, maximum is 10 at the moment. But that is not a limiting factor, we can extend that actually, but just to be safe, we stick with 10, this is more than enough. ”  Engr. Santiago said, further adding that the broadcasters are encouraged to offer HD services but it will be on the discretion of the networks on how will they configure their transmission.

“Now the good thing about this is may mga broadcasters na mago-ooffer ng HD, and market acceptance ang magsasabi ng kung ano yung format. So kahit ka naka-SD ka ngayon, pero merong isang maliit na istasyon na gusto ng tao kasi HD yung programa nya, that will force yung other network nan aka-SD to move to HD, kasi otherwise they will lose viewers. “ He added.

 

Engr. Santiago thinks that the broadcast industry is a service-oriented industry that serves the people first, and business would come in later.

(Television) Broadcast(s), primarily is public service, business will come in later.  For the networks, they have their battle cry… Parang sinasabi nila, whatever happens, we’re together in this, and that’s a form of service.

 

Lastly, he revealed to the interview that he was happy to be able to serve the country by being able to convince the government the best Digital TV Standard that the country will use in the future.

“Sa akin, it is not the destination eh, it’s the journey. Yung struggles, hurdles, which brings the best out of you to try and achieve the ultimate goal. The goal is a moving target eh, the first goal is to promote the technology, and once they embraced the technology, you don’t stop there; you have to move forward and teach them the technology. What else? You have to constantly upgrade their knowledge. So you achieve your goals based on the original path that you have taken. It makes me happy of course, because nagsimula ito 2003, now it’s 2014. It’s worth the wait talaga, it is not just for yourself, it is for the country.

“Siguro, 30, 40 years from now, I might not be in this world anymore but people will remember me for the things that I have contributed for our people. We need to contribute even the least thing for our country, but that small contribution will result in other benefits for our people, and you will be remembered for it. “ He ended.

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