Muhammad Irfan Gondal, CEO, Broadcast Systems Arabia, tells Digital Studio about recent projects, the challenges of working in war zones, and why it is vital to deploy broadcast infrastructure in these countries.
DS: Tell me about your company?
We established Broadcast Systems Arabia in 2011 to offer broadcast technology and systems integration services in conflict zones. The main concept for the company is this: Sky, Al Jazeera and all the main news channels are there [in conflict zones] but there is nobody there to provide the technical support for their teams. For example if their SNG is not working or the camera is not working and they are in Aleppo, we are the only company who provides services. There should be technical company to provide services on the ground.
What projects have you been working on in the past year?
Projects we have worked on include three transmitters for Alwasat Radio, and one for Jabal Radio in Libya. We also installed 12 DSNG vans for Libya Al Ahrar, which is the number one TV station for Libya now. We trained a team of 22 people on cameras, DSNGs, studio and live programming for Libya Al Ahrar.
We also project managed an HD studio in Libya and provided them with a 16 ENG set-up through Libya Al Ahrar. We did the Libya Al Ahrar project in 22 days, we built their studio and IP infrastructure. This is just some of the projects we have done in the past year in Libya.
We also project-managed the deployment of six transmitters for Al Aan TV in Libya. We work closely with Al Aan TV and each project with them benefits from their own technical, financial and human resources. In these projects, we rely on the combined skills of BSA and Al Aan TV’s team in the field.
What other countries have you worked in?
We are conflict zone specialists, we do most of the work in conflict zones. We are live in Damascus, Aleppo and in the Kurdish areas. In Egypt we installed a radio studio, back-up studio and established live streaming for Alwasat Radio, which is based in Cairo but provides radio in Libya. This was five months ago and went live in January. We also launched their FM channel on Nilesat and provided their staff with training. It was a complete project, a studio. We installed three FM transmitters for them and now we are working on three more for them to provide services in Tripoli, Sabha and Misrata. They are already covering three cities: Benghazi, Al Bayda and Tobruk. They are online, and also up-linking on Nilesat.
In Syria we have done some big projects in the last one and a half years. We have established 10 transmitters for Al Aan FM which is the number one network coverage-wise in Syria. Not all of our work is in conflict zones. In Dubai we did a four channel playout for Al Aan FM in Media City and we also did a 20kW FM transmitter in Ras Al Khaimah for one of our local clients, but these were small projects compared to the work we carry out in the conflict zones.
What are some of the main challenges of working in Libya?
It was very hard for us to ship the equipment from Italy to Libya because Tripoli is off, Benghazi is off. It took about 45 days to get the equipment there. We had equipment sent from Italy to Dubai, and from Italy to Turkey and then sent it on chartered aircraft to Tobruk. The situation is bad in Al Bayda and Tobruk, so it was very hard and very risky to install equipment there. In Bayda we installed an 85 metre tower and the antenna system. In Tobruk we installed a 110 metre tower with antenna system. This was for Alwasat Radio and was done three months ago.
How do you recruit staff in risky locations?
The first time we went to Libya we hired a local team and our team then trained them on the SNGs, on the cameras, on all technical work. We trained them for three months then I pulled back our team. We then support the local team. We adopted the same strategy in Syria also.