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.
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.
About SES and SES HD Plus Ghana
SES is a company with over 70 satellites in two different orbits, enabling them to provide extensive global coverage for high-performance video and data solutions. They have a track record of more than 30 years in connecting businesses, communities, and government institutions with reliable and innovative satellite services. SES helps broadcasters reach more viewers, assists mobile network operators in expanding their reach, provides real-time intelligence to peacekeepers, enables passengers to stay connected, and supports communities in remote areas. Their mission is to empower individuals to take their stories anywhere they desire with SES’s satellite technology.
SES HD PLUS Ghana Limited, a subsidiary of SES, was established in December 2020 to introduce the HD+ Product in Ghana.
Meanwhile, Ghana HD+ offers up to 20 popular high-definition (HD and Ultra HD 4K) free-to-air TV channels, complemented by over 100 SD channels from the MultiTV satellite platform in Ghana.
The Cooperation between SES and TARA Systems
SES relies on its longstanding partnership with TARA Systems for the development of the HD+ Decoder (Ghana HD+). 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 Inaris 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 | Project Meeting
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 phase 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
The Newland HD+ set-top boxes for pre-production at TARA Systems
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 the production software, the planning for the end-to-end tests in Ghana started.
The Ghana HD+ Decoder without housing during an automated test
Preparation for the Roll-Out
Before the final launch of the HD+ service and the HD+ Decoder could take place, there was an extensive testing phase to go through. This phase came with an extraordinary challenge for all partners involved. The main testing could only be done in Ghana, but travelling to Ghana was still restricted due to the regulations of ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the end, the tests took place as a video conference, live streamed from the SES subsidiary in Accra.
Screenshots from one of the described end-to-end testing video conferences
One of the most important steps in the end-to-end testing was the error-free process from the first start-up of the HD+ Decoder to the activation of the STB and until the booking of HD+ subscriptions. The team had to verify the entire process from booting the STB and displaying the HD+ number on the screen. In order to activate the channels the device related HD+ number is shown on the screen and after that the booking is conducted by means of a USSD code via the cell phone. The processing of the payment is also run via mobile phone and afterwards the activation via satellite is completed. The partnering companies SES/HD+, Nagra and TARA, which are located in Munich and Ghana, successfully completed this phase finally in time for the launch.
The Idea Becoming Reality in Ghanaian Households
By the end of 2020, the HD+ service was ready to be rolled out. SES created an appealing marketing campaign following the lifestyle of Ghanaians. To draw maximum attention to market the high-definition TV content loud colours, target-group-specific storytelling, consistent branding as well as a concise appearance of sales staff and installers was used.
Parallel to the start of the marketing campaign, the training of the technical support team in Ghana also took place. Since the HD+ decoder as a premium product, it is often installed by a specially trained staff. The aim was that the staff gained a profound understanding of the functions of the STB and this way is able to support the user during the first set-up.
The first Customers of the HD+ Decoder
The HD+ Decoder is sold by the electronics retailer Electroland as well as independent dealers, who also offer installation services. At the same time, a sales roadshow is taking place in several cities and regions of the country.
The early adopters are already experiencing 11 HD channels offering brilliant picture quality, with more channels to follow. In the meantime, the next feature extensions are already being discussed and will be distributed as a software update once ready.
Added Features Following the Market Launch
Since the launch of the HD+ Decoder in December 2020, we already developed and launched four feature upgrades that significantly improved the user experience and functionality of the HD+ Decoder. The upgrades were performed by an over-the-air update to also enhance devices that are already on the market. Have a look at the most popular new features for the HD+ customers in Ghana.
PVR and time-shift
You can now record, playback, pause and resume your TV shows.
Improved Favourite List
A pre-installed favourite list and access to it with a dedicated key on the remote control is one of the new features.
The HD+ service list is now presented in categories to find your channel faster.
Searching for your favourite TV content by genre is now available.
Unlike many other STB products on the market, the software of the HD+ Decoder is continuously improved. That way, users benefit from new features and minor improvements over a long time.
Impressions on How Advertising of HD+ Works in Ghana
Right from the start, our project partners in Ghana placed great emphasis on striking and eye-catching marketing and PR to market the HD+ box. Their appearances at trade fairs, shows or special events are characterized by a diverse brand presence and various campaigns such as raffles, competitions and much more. Here you can get an impression of how marketing measures are carried out in Ghana to gain a happy and satisfied customer.
There’s also a great social media presence with informative posts, offers and powerful videos. Thus the experience of Feeli Feeli is transported that the box offers to its customer. Watch one of the HD+ videos to get the Feeli Feeli experience yourself.
HD+ Advancements and Collaboration in Ghana
The number of HD+ customers has significantly increased over recent years. With many new channels added to HD+, a more compact HD+ Decoder has been launched, making it even more appealing. Additionally, new offerings and features are available for HD+ customers on the decoder, TV, and mobile platforms.
Our partnership with the Ghana HD+ team has also evolved. Each development cycle has seen improvements, with clear responsibilities, a structured approach, and skilled team members being key to success. We’re delighted to have provided the Ghanaian people with HD television for over three years.
HD+ Decoder's Evolution: Multi-Feed and Smart Updates
Three years after the HD+ Decoder’s launch, the team remains committed to regular software updates and new functionalities. By the end of 2022, in collaboration with the HD+ team, we introduced the Multi-Feed and HD+ Message features.
On Multi-Feed enabled channels, the HD+ Decoder allows users to select alternative video and audio programmes, especially during concurrent sports events. An overlay on the screen’s right side indicates available alternatives, with the remote’s colour keys facilitating selection. Although the HD+ Decoder is a non-connected STB, this feature enhances user interactivity.
The HD+ Messaging feature enables broadcasters to send personalised messages to HD+ users, promoting HD+ channel events or subscription details. It’s built on a generic messaging framework, displaying QR codes with web-links within messages. Behind the scenes, we’ve made advancements too. In mid-2023, we added support for SSU updates for specific user groups. With the rising HD+ Decoder population, this is vital to minimise rollout risks during software updates, ensuring streamlined future upgrades.
The TARA Systems Team
We at TARA Systems are proud to have contributed to the successful introduction of HD television in Ghana and to continue to develop the HD+ Decoder. Our team sends their congratulations on the successful roll-out of the #FeeliFeeli Experience to the team in Ghana with an impression from the winter in Munich 2020/2021.