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More digital radio stations. Ofcom - finally - proposes DAB+

You can almost hear the sound of "beep, beep, vehicle reversing". After many years of dismissing DAB+ as a UK broadcasting standard, Ofcom have announced that the time of DAB+ is approaching.

More listing choice: This could double the number of digital radio stations.  Photograph: Shutterstock
More listing choice: This could double the number of digital radio stations. Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

From the new consultation document, Broadcast Digital Radio Technical Codes and Guidance Consultation on updates and amendments

The proposal is to allow the use of the High-Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding in addition to the MPEG-1 Audio Layer II that is used to encode the sound into the DAB broadcast. It does not change the fundamental levels, which remains Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing.

Ofcom says, in Section 2 Introduction of alternative audio encoding: DAB+

2.4 Use of HE-AAC encoded services within a DAB multiplex has been termed DAB+. The benefits of DAB+ are that it enables audio services to be broadcast at a higher sound quality for a given bitrate than MP2 or to fit additional services into a multiplex at a lower bitrate than MP2 but with equivalent quality. This provides the opportunity to carry many more services and/or better audio quality for services operating in the same spectral occupancy.

2.5 In our 2007 consultation The Future of Radio we said that adoption of DAB+ could be desirable if this was the future direction of DAB across the world. DAB+ is now being adopted in many countries across Europe as well as Australia and other parts of the world.

2.7 It is likely that a complet change to DAB+ in the UK would be a longer term transition that would take into account the installed base of DAB-only receivers in the UK and the current relatively low level of penetration of sets that are compatible with DAB+. It is however likely to be beneficial to include the DAB+ standard into the Digital Code and to permit its limited deployment now and therefore enable the future wider adoption of the technology in the UK.

2.10 Inclusion of DAB+ in the Digital Radio Technical Code does not provide consent for services on existing multiplexes to switch to DAB+. Ofcom would however consider requests for services to switch to DAB+ from operators of existing multiplexes, taking into account the reasons for the request and the potential impact upon listeners that such a change would entail.

I am going to make a guess that this is going to please all the readers of UK Free TV!

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Tuesday, 29 April 2014
7:35 PM

Mark: Many people will go out and buy a DAB to be with the "in" crowd, to "keep up" with their neighbours/family. How many people actually listen solely to DAB is another question, like I said earlier, there are people with DAB who prefer the sound and quality of FM and have their digital radios switched to FM. There are also people who have had DAB's bought for them as a gift or whatever and the radios are tucked away in the loft, still in the box.

Yes, many people DO believe in DAB, and that's proved by the fact that some 16% said they are more likely to listen to radio now because DAB has improved choices and quality. However, many people of all age groups still prefer Analogue, and it's only right that everybody should have a choice rather than being bullied into DAB.

Sorry I missed your statement about the percentage of listening - it's beer o'clock, what do you expect.

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Stan's 27 posts Bronze Bronze GB
Ricky T
9:27 PM

Stan: I wonder how many people bought a DAB radio on the back of that irritating ad campaign over Christmas only to discover that the vast majority of stations they could listen to were broadcasting in MONO!!!!!!!!! Personally I think that this "switch over" should only occur when the number of stations on DAB in STEREO match that on FM.

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Ricky T's 2 posts GB
10:11 PM

Stan: You might indeed know people who use the FM on their FM/DAB radio, but Mark is right, 25% of all listening is done via DAB, and thats only going to grow, whether it be DAB, DAB+ or whatever. FM sets have falling sales, while digital sets remain constant.

I really cant imagine anyone buying a DAB set to be part of 'the in crowd' (if they wanted to be trendy, they'd be streaming via their £2k Ruark 7, as seen in Sherlock). Out of the 101 radio's on the website of the people I work for, 89 have have DAB, and 53 have FM - thats the market (and they start at around £35). And despite the strongly held views of people who believe that FM is much superior, frankly, most people dont really care one way or another. But they do know that they can't get Radio 6 Music on analogue...

He is also right about other devices being used to listen - my cheap phone has FM (although I've never used that function), but if you have a smartphone, tablet, etc, you can just stream via the net. Again, this is only going to grow. The point we have to make again and again is that people listening in any way but analogue simply means less people using analogue - thats it.

I wouldn't compare the sound from the DAB radio you bought (this one? B&M Stores: > Aves DAB Radio - 281392 ) with a decent radio from 30 years ago, any more than I would compare it with a decent DAB radio like an Evoke 2. Its a cheap radio from a brand which has mixed reviews (have a look at Amazon), and a 2.5w speaker (although it is DAB+ !). I suspect it was pretty ropey on FM as well. I know that the DAB bitrate isn't all that it should be, but its not the signal strength, or even the broadcast method - its the radio.

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MikeB's 2,561 posts Platinum Platinum GB
11:12 PM

Followed this thread with interest. I tried DAB and decided it was utter rubbish, I could only pick up a station if I was in the back of the house and then only reliably if I went upstairs. I wouldn't mind but I am not in a rural area so at the minute I'm sticking to FM. Its the same story as digital TV if you have a poor signal you get nothing, at least with FM you can still listen even if its through the hiss.

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Ian's 503 posts Gold Gold GB
Wednesday, 30 April 2014
1:42 PM Accrington

I used to have a DAB radio a few years ago but gave it up when I couldn't get decent reception even with with the aerial fully extended and even near a window (I live in a built up area which hinders DAB reception). When I get it right I still get bubbling mud and break up and when cars go past it descends to a bubbling mess!!! I won't touch the technology ever again and will stick with good quality FM and reasonable medium wave on my 80's midi hifi system.

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Anthony's 70 posts Bronze Bronze GB
6:40 PM

MikeB: I agree with everything you have just said. Yes it was that very radio. If it was normally going for £29.99 I might have understood the, erm, questionable quality, but, as it had a retail starting price of £79.99 there was really no excuse (or maybe that's why they lowered the price) but that was my first impression of DAB (or BAD) I'm afraid. It was a BAD radio and included BAD+ (though I couldn't see any plus sides about it). FM was slightly better, slightly more steady SOUND, prob little to do with the signal. A good quality DAB radio must be obtainable for £40, not £100+.

DAB listening may grow somewhat, but on the other hand it may well have pretty much peaked. If it has only managed to reach a quarter in 20+years... The other devices like tablets, smartphones etc ARE going to grow rapidly, but realistically they will NEVER replace traditional broadcasting. And certainly, Analogue will continue being the biggest SINGLE listening platform for quite some time yet, which is why we don't want or need a switchover, certainly not yet.

I agree that Analogue will have an ever-shrinking presence in the market, switchover or no. But a vital presence nevertheless. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket and rely solely on DAB and the internet, that just won't do. As time goes on new technologies develop. But that should just make it clearer than ever that being multi-platform is simply the price for being in business in the 21st century, not an excuse to bully people into new technologies if they are perfectly satisfied with what they have.

Also, I'm afraid I have to take your point about more people using digital radio (in whatever form) automatically meaning less people using Analogue with a pinch of salt. It could well be that radio listening is simply expanding because of these technologies, and as a result of that the share of Analogue listening is declining.

There will always be Analogue. Long live FM

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Stan's 27 posts Bronze Bronze GB
11:00 PM

Stan: That radio was unlikely to have ever been offered at £79.99 (or even the £59 quoted on the companies website).

Your not going to get a great sound from a £40 radio, DAB or not, any more than a £30 FM radio - the speakers are too small, etc. But for most people, listening in the kitchen, etc, they are OK. You could do a lot worse than the Pure One Mini for £40, but have a look at the WhatHifi review of the Pure Evoke D2 - Pure Digital Evoke D2 - they really liked it.

I suspect that your loyality to analogue radio has led you to ignore the reality spelled out by the research - digital is growing, and that also seems to be where the growth of listening is coming from.
'DAB listening may grow somewhat, but on the other hand it may well have pretty much peaked'. There is no evidence to support that - its clear that digital listening is increasing year on year. At home, analogue is at 50% or less. To assume that its peaked is wishful thinking. And how long as DAB been available with reasonably priced sets and digital only content?

'The other devices like tablets, smartphones etc ARE going to grow rapidly, but realistically they will NEVER replace traditional broadcasting.' - Nobody says they will, but you yourself admit that analogue is an ' ever-shrinking presence in the market, switchover or no'.

Is LW indispensible? Apparently not, judging by the numbers listening to it. At some point, its going to stop. We have put all our eggs in one basket with TV - do you still use analogue TV? No, and neither does anyone else. Multi-platform? Commercial radio goes where the audience is - if nobody is listening to the platform, then its cut loose.

Nobody is bullying people to listen via digital - the data says people like it. In the same way, retailers are not stocking mostly DAB sets, tablets etc because the Stonecutters have told them to - its because thats what people wish to buy. If they are satisfied with what they have, why are analogue sets sales dropping so much year on year?

' It could well be that radio listening is simply expanding because of these technologies, and as a result of that the share of Analogue listening is declining.' Could well be - but thats still a decline, and every tablet, smartphone, laptop or DAB/internet radio sold is one less person looking for the FM switch. At some point, switchover will happen, its just when enough people have stopped using analogue. I'll be sad if this happens, but I don't believe that any technology lasts forever.

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MikeB's 2,561 posts Platinum Platinum GB
Thursday, 1 May 2014
Steve P
6:44 PM

All I want is to be able to carry on listening to Radio 4 on FM - and preferably LW too.

They have VASTLY better coverage than any Cellular digital is likely to, and bandwidth is free.

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Steve P's 1,173 posts Gold Gold US
Steve P
6:46 PM

" I don't believe that any technology lasts forever. "

When do you expect the wheel to fall out of use?

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Steve P's 1,173 posts Gold Gold US
6:54 PM

MikeB: My mother has a Pure Evoke-1. It's superbly built, with (I believe) a maple surround, and is of quality that will last a lifetime (theoretically, because the powers that be will no doubt force some other "upgrade" on us which will make it defunct). However, I fail see what DAB has to offer me except higher energy bills and, presumably, less reliability (more complex technology = more prone to failure, right?). Okay, one or two stations are digital-only stations, but I have always managed without them. Until I think that DAB has something to offer me which Analogue can't, I am simply not interested.

Radio is not TV. We are lucky we don't often have national emergencies and communication failures BUT WHEN/IF THEY COME. The Government will need to transmit emergency information to the populace using reliable time-tested Analogue technologies.

Endless(often misleading) campaigns by the radio industry has meant that many people are under the impression that Analogue will cease soon, which is why they are, effectively, being pressured into buying into DAB. They are just trying to look to the future. Speaking of TV - the television has never been anything more than entertainment, the radio can potentially be a lifeline. We must keep MW/FM going so it is ready to be put into use at the press of a button. To go about it any other way could well cost many lives... We should thank our lucky stars that we don't often get these situations, but when they come they come without warning. All this cyber-terrorism, climate change etc they keep talking about.

" Could well be - but thats still a decline, and every tablet, smartphone, laptop or DAB/internet radio sold is one less person looking for the FM switch"

NOT NECESSARILY. As you have said in an earlier post, the average person doesn't seem to care whether they are listening to DAB or FM. People might well buy a DAB radio, but will still switch it to FM if that's where their favourite station is. As for tablets/iphones - people might well buy them so they can listen to radio on the move - but when at home they may still listen to FM.

If listeners - some 8 million of them - are happy to switch to MW to listen to their favourite stations, there really is no reason to think they won't do the same for their favourite local FM stations. Yes, of course, commercial radio goes where the ears are. Commercials are still broadcasting on MW to this day. Yes, most have also gone DAB, but are continuing to simulcast on AM. They will more than likely do the same with FM.

As I've said before, there may or may not come a time when all Analogue is discontinued. I just don't expect it to happen in my lifetime, if ever. There will always be a MW/FM audience. There simply wouldn't be enough room on DAB for all national and local stations.

The Analogue TV switch off happened chiefly because of Government's intentions to auction it off. FM/MW/LW are worth ZILCH.

I can (well, ALLMOST) guarantee you that, for as long as I live, there will always be radio stations of one or another sort that I will be able to receive on my Sony, and I'm sticking with it. If that makes me some sort of "Luddite", then so be it. I will make the most of it.

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Stan's 27 posts Bronze Bronze GB
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