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Digital Radio's future

The Digital Radio Working Group has produced a report.

The Digital Radio Working Group has produced a report.
published on UK Free TV

There is a new report Digital Radio Working Group: Final Report that makes suggestions about the future of DAB. I have to say the lack of vision is appauling. For example

New campaigns to target specific areas of listening, e.g. a "Wake up with digital radio" breakfast promotion for purchasing and listening to digital clock radios;

Disappointingly it offers no future of DAB+. DAB+ provides much better sound for the same bitrates - so you get the same number of radio stations but at true CD quality.

Here is a plan:

1) The BBC is allocated the "second national commercial multiplex" (SNCM) frequency on loan;

2) The BBC doubles up it's equipment on existing national DAB sites to broadcasts on SNCM.

3) The BBC national services are duplicated on SNCM in DAB+, providing higher sound quality;

4) DAB+ radio go on sale in the UK, and give "true CD quality sound" on BBC national channels;

5) As sales of DAB rise, First National Commercial Multiplex becomes more viable, driving up the value of FNCM;

6) BBC builds out it's multiplex and SNCM network to FM coverage area (or even AM). This includes all main roads and railways.

7) After five years, BBC withdraws DAB service on it's main multiplex, moves DAB+ service to BBC multiplex.

This means "old" DAB sets will have to be upgraded to DAB+ sets for BBC reception.

8) Free SNCM restored to commercial market, but with full network built, in DAB+.

9) Later, FNCM switches to DAB+ and extra bandwidth can be sold;

10) Local and regional DAB moves to DAB+ as market demands.

Update: 24 Dec 08 (posted orignally on Media Talk on The Guardian -

DAB will always be an efficient use of the electromagnetic spectrum to use broadcast for things that are actually broadcast, because if you have a mass listenership, then best to use a one-to-many channel, not a peer-to-peer network.

DAB's problem is that it falls between two many posts. There is choice over FM/AM, but now mainly of BBC stations, plus Planet Rock.

The sound quality isn't better. Mobile reception is worse. Coverage is worse. The choice of sets is very limited still - the only mobile phone with DAB was the Virgin Mobile Lobster, now dead.

Freeview and satellite provide a much better listening experience for all radio channels over DAB. RDS still trumps DAB for auto tuning and the "traffic programme" service.

And, as the BBC launched DAB before MPEG2 was ratified, there is no easy path to DAB+.

And there is no "digital radio switchover" date to focus minds of both broadcasters and consumers.

In the end DAB is a technology looking for a solution, not the answer to consumers prayers.

If you were to ask people what they wanted from digital radio, I am sure they would want:

1) Universal coverage better than FM and AM combined (as it is to replace both);

2) More choice of stations and formats in both local and national configurations;

3) Cheaper than analogue radio to buy;

4) Integration into the music player you use (iPod, MP3 player or mobile phone)

5) Good indoor reception on above portable devices including in car and on trains and even the underground;

6) Sound quality to match or better FM for all services;

7) PVR facilities: live pause, instant record and EPG recording;

8) Automatic traffic information as per RDS

9) All of the above today.

Let's face it, DAB as it stands now falls short on almost all of these.

Audiophiles hate DAB because the sound quality is poor and there are no "separates" out there, and the casual user gets a device with an interface that resembles that of a broken ZX81.

Taking all this into account Matt Wells has a point - DAB is a poor consumer proposition.

But IP-delivered radio is NOT the solution to the above problems.

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