success-story-ghana-hdplus-mit-bg-ses

HD Television for Ghana

Improved picture quality and easier distribution of new TV content for a West African country – this intention brought the already long-time collaborating partners of SES and TARA Systems together as for an ambitious project in 2019. This story describes how SES introduces a product innovation in the HDTV sector nation-wide in Ghana – and how we as TARA Systems contribute to it.

The Ghanaian government supports digitalisation in the country in an increasing number of sectors and has even proclaimed it as a national objective. The rising economy continues to make the African country on the Gold Coast more interesting for various companies in, for example, the entertainment industry. Digitalisation should give the country an additional boost.

Existing Demand

Ghana has 29 million residents and is a promising market for the introduction of HD television. Many people in Ghana already have HD-capable televisions; however, there are not yet any local HD broadcasts. Market observations from SES have shown that people are interested in HD content and consumers are furthermore prepared to pay a fee for better TV picture quality. In Ghana, the payment transactions for services and many goods are usually made over a mobile phone. So, for example, the electricity bill is also often paid over one’s mobile phone. The transactions transpire via so-called USSD codes which are entered into the mobile phone and confirmed. In many European countries, the same mechanism can be used for inquiring about the pre-paid credit on a mobile phone.

HD+: The Premium Television for Ghana

The potential identified in market observations has been implemented in a product concept by SES and ultimately in specifications that include an HD-capable infrastructure from broadcasters and the set-top box (STB) for end users. The brand HD+ for television with the best picture quality is already very successful in Germany and is also supposed to represent premium television in Ghana. The set-top box necessary for reception is sold as an HD+ Decoder. This will be able to receive the new HD+ stations as well as the already existing SD quality stations. The user himself, or a retailer, enters the HD+ channels via a mobile phone which also features predefined channel lists and an electronic programme guide in addition to a high-resolution picture.

The Ghana HD+ Decoder with remote control: MultiTV is one of the largest broadcasters in Ghana and is included in the new HD+ offer.

The Cooperation between SES and TARA Systems

SES relies on its longstanding partnership with TARA Systems for the development of the HD+ Decoder. SES and HD+ have already gathered extensive experience in collaboration with us in the realisation of complex projects in recent years. In this project, we are contributing the entire TV application including the underlying TV software components. We also developed the associated user interface with the GUI development tool Embedded Wizard. The appearance of the HD+ Decoder on the television is thus almost completely shaped by our software.

HD+ Decoder for a Competitive Market

In order for HD+ to be successful in Ghana, it is necessary to keep the costs for the HD+ Decoder as low as possible and, at the same time, to impress with new features. In the Ghanaian market, there is an intense price battle among STB providers since, until now, all relevant stations have been freely received. Consequently, the simplest standard boxes can be imported and sold. The HD signals and additional services, which should be available through HD+, will nevertheless be encrypted and exclusively made available to customers with a corresponding subscription.

To facilitate an STB with a very good price-performance ratio and high protection of the HD signals, finally an STB from Newland that is based on a chipset from Montage Technology was selected. Nagravision is used as an encryption system. Flash and RAM consumption are adjusted as much as possible for the optimisation of the hardware costs. In doing so, the use of Linux as the operating system was renounced, among other things, and a real-time operating system with minimal storage requirements was used as an alternative.

User interface of the Ghana HD+ Decoder with an open channel list
displaying a portion of the available channels in Ghana

Development of the HD+ Decoder

The green light for the development of the software for the Ghana HD+ Decoder came just shortly after the beginning of 2020. The first development boards with the new Montage SoC were available in the middle of January, so that the porting of our TV software was directly carried out. An initial test of the software with the existing broadcasting in Ghana had already been performed at the end of January. The STB produced here should not only set new standards functionally in Ghana but also simultaneously be as easy as possible for users to install and to operate. Regular adjustments and improvements to the design of the graphic user interface (GUI) and the user experience have ensured this. One of the unique selling points of the Ghana HD+ Decoder here is the use of the channel lists and programme information compiled by HD+ for the Ghanaian market.

Development engineer porting our TV application to the Ghana HD+ Decoder

Active Partners in the Development

Remote Analysis and Monitoring the Device Status

An analysis system was developed for use in the field parallel to the software for the set-top box. This is necessary as the Ghana HD+ Decoder must manage without a network interface, and, therefore, analysis data on the device status and errors cannot be transferred as usual directly from the box via the Internet. The new analysis system writes the data via a USB port. These are then optionally stored on a simple USB stick or sent in real time via WLAN or 3G/4G from an external device. This system ultimately enables the monitoring of the device status in real time by means of tools such as BigQuery and DataStudio.

Special Task: "Living Room" Development

The coronavirus pandemic reached Europe during the middle of the critical www of development. The lockdown phase in Germany then also became a new and unexpected challenge for the majority of the development team. The objectives remained unaltered in a working environment that was concurrently significantly changing. All at once, the local satellite connection and the television in the living room were important components for the development and the test of the software for the set-top boxes for Ghana.

From Certification via Test Phase to Production Start

Delivery of the Newland HD+ set-top boxes for pre-production at TARA Systems

These 100 set-top boxes, together with the pre-production software developed for this purpose, were the basis for an intensive test phase, which is indispensable for a premium product such as the HD+ Decoder. We always kept in mind the highest objective of a hassle-free initial installation with customers.

In addition to automated tests, the expanded home user test phase also contributed to this. In the course of this, the developers themselves use and test the HD+ Decoder at home on their own televisions in a very early phase. The resulting user experiences then influence the further development of the product. In the course of the home user tests, the monitoring and analysis system was also tested for the first time by a user at home. Finally, the software was approved for production at the end of August.

After the approval for software production, the planning for the first feature upgrade also began. This should be arranged close to the time of the product launch.

The Ghana HD+ Decoder without housing during an automated test

Market Launch of the HD+ Decoder

For rapid and extensive distribution, an upgrade offer for the HD+ Decoder should be made available to many users with the purchase of a new television. The original launch during the European football championship, which is popular in Ghana, unfortunately had to be abandoned due to the global coronavirus pandemic and the resulting postponement of the tournament. The new launch date is mid of December 2020.

About SES

SES is the world-leading satellite operator and the first to deliver a differentiated and scalable GEO-MEO offering worldwide, with over 50 satellites in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) and 20 in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). SES provides reliable and secure satellite and ground communications solutions. They push for breakthroughs in connectivity and their impact on people worldwide.

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TARA Systems is a long-term and reliable partner of SES in the area of set-top boxes in a fast-moving tech environment. I am always entirely pleased with the high quality of the deliverables – particularly I really appreciate every individual expertise and their even stronger overall expertise as a highly efficient organism, their fast-paced decision making, and the high engagement of all team members. Their structured working method enables us to respond to short-dated changes in the development and thus to react to new challenges of our customer projects. TARA Systems does not only develop and take responsibility for the whole client Software they also supported us during conception phases, market introduction and maintenance phases. It's really a pleasure to work with them.

Alexander Sacher — VP Consumer Electronics Solutions & CTO HD+