back to article Talking DAB and the future of radio

DAB radio usually gets a flailing from Reg readers, and that was before this summer's "switch-off" controversy. Former FreeView chief Tony Moretta has the job of steering the DAB ship through such controversies as head of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, and here's an extended Q&A with him conducted recently. The …


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peace man

Why can't the two just live together happily in a world where we all celebrate difference and choice? Why does it have to be one or the other?

Oh, I get it now, so I am forced to go out and spend £££ replacing all my radios. My beautiful radios. sob. And I have a really nice massively overpriced BOSE one - you know the one they put adverts for inside shitty catalogues for people who can't afford them.

I once bought a pottable digital radio some years back (cos I'm a nerd) thinking (stupidly) it would be the panacea to wonderful reception everywhere. I quickly learnt going through a tunnel/under a tree on the train to work that this wasn't the case. Stupid I know, but that's how they market the utopia of DAB to nobs like me - and looks like this is still going on judging by the experiences most of the venerable commentards on here.


Three words: Mobile. Internet. Radio.

The future of digital radio is on mobile 'phones.

Reg you didn't mention this, only mentioned WiFi. Hence the flame icon.

For mobile internet radio:

- Nokia's free internet radio application is great - 10000s of stations from all over the world. So is Vradio's free one:

- So much more time and money has been successfully invested in producing robust reception quality on mobiles. Why re-invent the wheel with DAB?

- Modern efficient codecs on mobiles: eAAC+, AAC+, MP3. 48kbps Web Black from Brazil sounds great via my N95 hooked up to my car stereo. Respected MP2 that DAB uses wasn't designed for low bitrates. BBC stations in Real format? Wonder why they don't use those newer codecs...

- Who needs RAJAR for estimating audience figures, when mobile internet radio/internet radio gives PRECISE audience figures?

- Handsets are always improving and do many other things. Why buy a single purpose DAB radio, even if it has got a colour display and touch screen. Anything feature you can dream up on a DAB radio could be done with a mobile phone and mobile internet radio. AGAIN: why re-invent the wheel with DAB?

- Data packages are always improving with allowance to allow longer listening times. Some operators won't fine you if you go over - they will cap and send an advisory note. Billshock(TM) could be proposed as a BBC trademark to incite propaganda against mobile internet radio in favour of DAB...

Against DAB

- Why should where we live determine what stations can we get? We live in an internet age which (geo-locking aside) by default doesn't restrict what information we can get depending on where we live. DAB is outdated in this respect with its use of multiplexes. Why, if you live in certain provinces can you only have middle-of-the-road VH1 playlist style bland-woite [sic] -vayn-man-radio advertising carpets and cars and can't get hip, edgy and cool metropolis-based stations? Why should you be patronised by your locale?

- Also, DAB multiplexes exclude smaller, sometimes more innovative, community stations.

- Mud burble sound - because DAB has no error correction. The standard was finalised in the 1990s. CD has error-correction (reed solomon), standard finalised early 1980s. Go figure.


Impressed and annoyed (at the same time)

I had a hire car with a DAB radio recently, a Mondeo. I had Radio 2 on DAB all the way from Altrincham to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight with no gaps, much better than I was expecting. I was surprised that it cut back to FM for traffic announcements though.

I've got a little DAB/MP3 player thingy that used to work perfectly if the headphone cable was in exactly the right place, doesn't get a dicky bird in the new office in Warrington. Chewed through batteries too, the AA rechargeable ran the MP3 for days but managed 15 hours on DAB.

The MagicBox DAB radio at home works fine on the window sill, three feet into the room and it breaks up all the time. That may have more to do with the foil lined wall insulation though.

I do like the extra channels on DAB - The Arrow, Planet Rock, Smooth Radio and Jazz FM are regulars for me. My problem is all the kit I've got with FM and no DAB - the car radio, clock radio, 2 phones etc. FM better not disappear until all that lot has been replaced, which will be several years away.



Killing off the radio audience?

DAB? You're joking. Can't get reasonable FM in some parts of the house without an amplified aerial. There are still in the UK thousands of miles of A roads where there's no usable radio signal of any sort. Adding another useless non-standard (no dab+) system to the broadcasting setup unless it has 100% coverage will ensure one thing -- people abandoning listening to the radio as transmissions on existing systems are shut down.

Coverage statistics are nonsense, too. It's irrelevant to me what % of the population have coverage -- if I'm driving through a sparsely-populated (or non-populated) area I still want coverage and if I'm on an A road I should be able to expect it, even if there's no-one lives there full-time.

Internet radio isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. Can't get a decent sampling rate on Radio 4 at all -- unusable.


Digital Radio is a farce

Unfortunately, we have a worse situation in the US, as iBiquity is trying to convert on the existing AM/FM bands. This destructive technology is jamming our broadcast bands, especially on AM radio - HD Radio/IBOC was designed to jam the smaller broadcasters off the dial, as iBiquity's investors are all the larger broadcast groups; this is the same gatekeeper scam as the BCC is running in the UK. Consumers have outright rejected HD Radio, as it is a scam to prop-up a declining radio industry through HD Radio receiver sales. Luckily, stations have started to turn off IBOC, as many radio groups are looking at major financial problems:

Anonymous Coward

Let's just stop doing radio - better than death by a thousand cuts

I'm old.

I used to listen to Radio 3 on AM. Then the blimps sitting in their anechoic chambers with precisely positioned stereo speakers and external FM aerials decided no need for R3 AM any more, anyone who doesn't listen with a setup like theirs isn't worthy of consideration.

So I, carrying the radio around the house doing my chores, find that I need to extend the FM aerial and rotate the radio to get a worse signal than AM gave. I think on AM they flattened out the dynamic range a bit so the quiet bits got a boost so if I was doing something noisy I could still hear.

Then I moved to the North, of course northerners are all thick and don't listen to R3 so signal strength is weaker - and we have hills, the FM wavelengths don't "bend" as well as AM. Goodbye R3. Hello R4 - until the Cricket, used to be on R3 AM, moved to R4 AM so as a non cricketer one of the R3 "problems" follows my listening to R4, switch to R4 FM? No, for the same reasons as above.

Good news they invented R5 for live sport - yes but Test Match Cricket would mess up their schedule too much so lets bugger up the R4 listeners instead.

Good news: DAB arrives! Whoever invented DAB must have shares in a Battery maker, it's not portable guys. To save my bank balance switch to rechargeable batteries - but they hold less charge than a disposable battery. When the batteries are going flat on FM/AM the volume decreases you might have a few hours warning, time to get replacements, with DAB no warning it just dies within a matter of seconds (made worse by the "sudden death" characteristics of rechargeables). Instead of having to position the radio/FM aerial to reduce hiss and changes in signal as I move around the room relative to the radio with DAB the audio breaks up a bit or dies completely, poor FM reception could be listenable, poor DAB is crap.

Good news the Government make a few quid selling off the radio spectrum and those in not hilly, well populated areas, who don't use portable radios and don't mind the fact that the cheapest DAB radio costs 10 times the cost of a basic analogue radio will continue to get reasonable service - bad news the rest of us need a new receiver in order to get worse reception (and we would be foolish to expect to see any benefit from the cash from selling off spectrum).

We hear the usual "reassuring" garbage like "90% of the population will get good reception" - but not of all channels and not 90% of the land area so all suffer when driving.

Someone on here suggested using Internet radio via net connected mobile phone... with even poorer geographic coverage than any broadcast radio! I think not.


@Equitas and @Anonymous Coward Posted Thursday 24th September 2009 17:04 GMT

Equitas Posted Thursday 24th September 2009 14:33 GMT wrote in "Killing off the radio audience?":

"Internet radio isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. Can't get a decent sampling rate on Radio 4 at all -- unusable."

That might be because the BBC choose to use the dated proprietary Real codec at low bitrates. (someone update me if this is no-longer the case) Instead if they used AAC/AAC+ or even eAAC+ then the sound quality would be much higher at that same low bitrate. Some say that such inertia is the BBCs way of encouraging people to choose DAB rather than dedicated internet radio sets or even via internet on the mobile.

Anonymous Coward Posted Thursday 24th September 2009 17:04 GMT wrote in :

"Let's just stop doing radio - better than death by a thousand cuts":

"Someone on here suggested using Internet radio via net connected mobile phone... with even poorer geographic coverage than any broadcast radio! I think not."

But that can change, coverage can be improved. Consider that Vodafone sell (one-off payment for the kit) a Femtocell which connects to a broadband fixed line providing instant call and broadband 3G wireless coverage. (OK, let's put aside the argument about Vodafone asking people to pay to improve coverage for a moment). This does empower people to improve coverage themselves. Can't do that with DAB can you?

Apparently 100million pounds is suggested to be invested into improving DAB coverage. Waste of money! Guess where advertising is growing? (probably) not radio. Guess who the biggest advertising agency is? Google.

Rather than investing such money in DAB - an undemocratic, specialised one-to-many broadcast platform using old technology (MP2, no-error correction for robustness), why not instead use it to help improve high-speed mobile internet access - a general purpose many-to-many communications medium.

Enhancing these high speed broadband internet wireless networks is much more "socially useful" (to borrow a phrase from another news subject) than DAB. And such networks can carry radio broadcasts and provide precise audience figures.

Perhaps rhetorical question: why does the radio industry feel the need for its own platform when internet can carry this competently?



Frankly anybody that gets DAB is getting a very poor service and one that will get worse. The system has already been castigated as being technically out of date, the ease with which broadcasters can put up channels on their allocation means that the audio quality is dumped for number of channels.

Quite honestly whilst audio on AM is not good, its better than nothing which many areas get with DAB, add that to the total area loss and continual channel changing when driving and very poor continuous signal in cities.

I think possibly DAB is Dubious Audio Base.


Even the Irish prefer DAB+

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland just published a report into Digital Radio in Ireland, where the commercial radio sector would prefer DAB+ and even RTE, who have been supportive of DAB admits that Ireland will transition to DAB+.

Never mind the millions of radios already sold, DAB has failed - transition to DAB+ as soon as possible before FM switchover. What I find amazing is how it is considered acceptable to kill off the many millions of working and serviceable FM radios out there for DAB, but it is totally unacceptable to kill off or upgrade the existing nine million DAB radios for DAB+!?



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