Radio in Africa: New FM band frequencies promise to reinforce radio


The first frequency planning and coordination meeting to help African countries strengthen their FM radio broadcasting services took place virtually on 15-19 February. This meeting was jointly organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the African Telecommunication Union (ATU) with regulatory and technical support from ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau. 

The meeting forms part of the joint GE84 Plan Optimization project for Africa, which promotes efficient and equitable use of the 87.5-108 MHz (FM) band and aims to identify new frequencies for analogue FM sound broadcasting. 
The project strives to ensure compatibility among existing and new broadcasting frequency assignments, facilitating the eventual introduction of digital sound broadcasting in Africa. 
“Working together to improve access to technologies- including established media like broadcast radio -is at the heart of our mission to connect the world,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “Radio is a low-cost medium, well suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people. It is especially vital in times of disaster and emergencies.” 
Over 200 delegates from 49 Member States participated in the virtual meeting. Meeting participants focused on the process required to align different national frequency plans, particularly for FM broadcasting in the 87.5-108 MHz band. Discussions also covered the criteria for assigning broadcast channels, such as acceptable nuisance field strength (NFS), the use of coordination information, numbers of layers, and polarization discrimination, as well as timelines and steps needed for frequency assignment and planning process. 
ATU Secretary General John Omo said: “Today in Africa, radio is a vital communication medium, delivering information and educational content with immense socio-economic value, particularly in rural areas. In many countries, however, the growth and reach of FM radio is hampered by the limited number of FM frequencies.”
Through the ATU’s partnership with ITU, several countries have started optimizing their FM plans. “A coordinated, continent-wide effort in optimizing the GE84 Plan for Africa promises to identify new FM frequencies to sustain and support the growth of the FM radio,” Mr Omo added.
GE84 Plan Optimization was launched in July 2019 in South Africa as a joint ITU-ATU project to manage growing demand for FM stations, as well as to prepare African countries for the introduction of digital radio.
Prior to completion, planned for January 2022, the project is set to hold two more frequency coordination meetings. It is also set to produce a regional FM compatibility analysis, using software and tools developed by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau, as the basis for further discussions and for coordination between national and regional administrations. 
“This project to identify additional frequencies for FM broadcasting in Africa couldn’t be timelier, as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in greater demand for quality radio broadcasting,” added Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. “We look forward to working with all ITU member states to realize the objectives of this project so that radio is an innovative form of media accessible everywhere and to everyone.” 
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