back to article Germans and Swiss snub DAB

The commercial radio industries in Germany and Switzerland have both rejected proposals that they should invest in developing the DAB digital radio system in their countries to replace existing FM/AM transmissions. The German argument against DAB was that the significant investment required simply did not justify the lengthy …

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  1. Charles 9 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Meanwhile, across the pond...

    Two digital radio standards are beginning their emergence into the American wavelengths. The older of the two is the combined Sirius XM, based on satellite technology. It's a subscription model and is nationwide, so it takes a certain mindset to not mind local news coverage. Newer to the airwaves is something known as HD Radio (aka NRSC-5). Unlike the European DAB standard, HD Radio is made to work *alongside* existing stations, acting as an alternate option rather than a replacement for existing AM or FM radio for the time being. Not to mention it uses more advanced codecs to improve the sound quality.

    That said, uptake on digital radio is rather slow on this side of the water, too. I think many will agree with me that digital radio in any form is more in the way of a solution looking for a problem.

  2. Lutin

    Have I missed something?

    This might have been mentioned before, but why is so much money being pumped into digital radio via DAB?

    We already have millions and millions of devices (phones, pcs) that can listen to digital radio via the internet. And these devices can pick up stations from anywhere on the globe (unlike DAB). It can't be long until we have cars that are 'net enabled too so we can listen to digital radio on the move.

    So why not just let FM/AM keep going until 'net coverage is ubiquotous?

    Have I missed something (not a rhetorical question, looking for an honest answer)?

    I should say that I have two (reciva) internet radios in my house and they are absolutely fantastic devices. I can't think of anything that DAB can do that they can't.

  3. eclairz
    Stop

    @charles 9

    Aren't all things Digital "a solution looking for a problem". The thing with digital is to increase quality with in a limited bandwidth. Look at cd players, that was a solution to better quality music, people with tape players thought it was unnecessary and some still use tapes today, but if you can get more consistant quality was the reasoning.

    Digital radio is the same in this case, the problem is FM radio makes it more difficult for smaller radio stations to compete as the bandwidth and power needed to produce the same signal is greater than digital. So with DAB you get more channels within the same spectrum delivering more or less very similar consistent quality. Some channels like "absolute radio" and "bbc radio" is good but the rest are very inconsistent.

    The main issue here is though DAB standard, unlike america european countries all like to do their own thing, if there is one standard then mass production and risk associated with new devices becomes easier to manage. I have no idea about costs for radio companies, but if radio transmitters can share the bandwidth then DAB can be cost efficient, but like all new technologies new tech costs much more money and also people need to be trained to use new gear whereas i'm sure there are many more competent FM admin people.

    New technologies will always come and go, with better codecs all the time, unless you plan to make Digital radios upgradable or backward compatible then your just adding unnecessary complexity, think about all the owners of blu-ray devices that don't work with new systems, yes the ps3 can be upgraded but not everyone can afford that. A standard should stay standard, and any major changes should be done in batches.

    If one or two countries decide to go do their own thing that may be their gain (in cost/quality) but also their loss (mass production, cost and compatibility). Of couse the problem with standards is that they restrict innovation, but that is a small cost compared to the risk of the whole idea going to ruin.

  4. David S
    FAIL

    Not just a solution in search of a problem...

    ...but a problem in itself. I have several AM/FM radios (around the house, in the car, in the shed, my laptop bag etc) all of which are working perfectly and can be pretty much guaranteed to give me a good signal and decent battery life (for the ones which are battery powered)

    My one DAB radio, bought in order to start embracing what seems to be an inevitable new technology and not appear luddite, is a comparative disaster. Bulky, prone to dalek-voice-effects and dropped signals, slow to boot (a radio that has to BOOT???) - I can't see how this can possibly be considered to be progress. Surely when you're going backwards there's a different word for that?

    And we're not being given a choice, right? I don't remember agreeing to this. Was I the only one who missed that meeting?

    Do. Not. Want.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Eh, cost of receivers?!

    Say wa?! I got my DAB radio for £15 from Tesco and its brilliant.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    (untitled)

    Seems to me to be another change for the sake of it, again. I guess it boosts someone's CV somewhere. First we have to have digital TV whether we like it or not. Now digital radio. And then we find the global market, nor even the European one, isn't at one with all this anyway.

    IMO if there is an advantage to switching, folk will do so for themselves when options are offered them. If they don't, then they ought not have it imposed. And especially not have to fund the costs too. If politicians want to change something for the fun of it then they should cover the costs from their own bank accounts.

  7. Richard S
    Thumb Up

    @Lutin

    "So why not just let FM/AM keep going until 'net coverage is ubiquitous?" - totally agree. DAB was really cool, 10 years ago, now streaming net media blows it away. The digital Britain report made me choke on my cornflakes. We need ubiquitous internet, especially in cars.

  8. Nick Kramer
    Unhappy

    DAB is Rubbish

    I endorse everything David S said, he put it better than I could.

    Sony DAB on my HiFi is useless so I use FM.

    The technology does not work.

    Nothing more to say

  9. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    DAB for cars

    Cars are the only place where DAB makes sense - every car needs exactly one radio, and every car has a battery big enough to drive a DAB radio for more than half an hour. That logic doesn't apply at home, on foot, on pushbikes, etc.

    That's the technology. What about the market?

    Well, when DAB was new and shiny I seem to remember the UK justification was that it would provide listeners with more choice (which in the UK was achieved by the world's lowest DAB bitrates).

    Anyone who's watched commercial radio in recent years will understand that choice is a Bad Thing, regional and local broadcasting is A Bad Thing, and what broadcasters really want are national chains, possibly with local opt outs for local adverts while they can just about claim they still have a handful of local listeners.

    So the "more choice" argument doesn't apply.

    Time for a review? Oh, we just had one. Have another one, and another, till they get the right answer. DAB UK => FAIL.

  10. McBread
    FAIL

    FM might sound better than DAB...

    ...but have you listened to the content? There's more variety in the CD bargin bin at your local petrol station. If we're going to keep FM as the primary radio for the UK (net connections in cars suitable for net-radio are decades away), can we at least make it a licence requirement that no record is plated more than twice a week?

  11. ChrisC

    @David S

    Care to let the rest of us know which particular radio you bought, so we can steer well clear...

    My first DAB set was the Philips DA1000, which is about the size of a deck of cards (hmm, wonder what that is in London Buses...). My second was a Pure One, which does feel as if there's quite a bit of empty space inside the casing, but is still conveniently sized for carrying one-handed from room to room or out into the garden. My third is integrated into the Panasonic micro-system (who's model number hasn't so much escaped me as was never captured in the first place) sat in the kitchen, which doesn't appear to be any more bulky than it would be if it'd been designed around an analogue radio receiver instead. All three sets will start spitting out audio within a second or two of pressing the power button, so whilst they are slower to start up than an analogue set, I wouldn't say any of them are slow.

    Granted, all three do suffer from the hideous warbling/whistling/wibbling of a partially dropped signal if their aerials aren't pointing in the right direction (though this only really affects the DA1000 with its use of the earphone lead as an aerial, and in particular if you use the wrong earphones. The lead length seems to be the critical factor here, the only two sets of earphones I've found that work at all well have noticeably longer leads - by 10cm or so - than is usual), but I'm happy to trade off the more ear-friendly degradation you get with low signal strength on AM/FM transmissions against the superior range of channels available on digital, and the absence (so far at least) of my listening pleasure being interrupted by interference from pirate stations/cab companies/overhead power lines etc.

    I quite agree that digital radio, as currently implemented in the UK, isn't as good as it could - and arguably SHOULD - be. I just don't think it's nearly as bad as it's made out to be by so many of its detractors.

  12. Alistair 2
    Grenade

    Dead As Betamax

    The DAB spec was good for squeezing in large number of channels, but it suffers from a number of effects that make it a far less satisfactory listening experience than FM.

    What we need is a standard that allows for graceful degredation in sound quality in poor reception conditions, a more robust modulation/coding scheme, lower power consumption so a radio can use disposable batteries for a reasonable length of time, and a fixed group delay so that all radios in the house (say) output the same sound at the same time instead of sounding like a comedy echo/delay special effect.

    Listening ofcom?

  13. ChrisC

    @Lutin & Richard S

    Whilst I too think the idea of accessing streamed broadcasts on the move is the right way to go, I fear it'd become just another revenue stream for whichever provider you use for your mobile net access. My average commute is 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week, so assuming a 128kbps stream I'd be chewing through at least 1.7GB a month, which is a fairly substantial amount compared to the typical fair usage limits on current "unlimited" mobile net packages - to receive that much data on a regular basis through my present mobile operator would cost me £12.77/month... no thanks. I might consider an annual subscription of, say, 50 quid for unlimited access to streaming radio, but I certainly wouldn't want to fork out 153 quid a year for access that was still hobbled by a fair use transfer limit.

  14. Fred 24

    Why DAB when we have streams?

    There is no need for a DAB radio, simple visit the internet radio station of your choice and 'listen live'.,,,, I've no intention to pay £65 for a DAB radio when my pc will do the job just fine.

    My favorite: http://www.planetrock.com/

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    commercial pressures and DAB reserve badwidth

    there are to my knowledge only 7 frequencies (ensembles - 11B - 11C - 11D - 12A - 12B - 12C - 12D) used for DAB in the UK right now, and they are transmitted at low power because of potential interference with old TV sets. - so the signal quality should be improving with time.

    There are 31 unused frequencies, or 180 new stations available.

    However, the costs of running a station, just what you are charged for the airtime, electricity, distribution costs etc. mean that it is not economic for commercial radio.

    Technically though, DAB+ with its new codec, and the many additional services it can support, is a very good standard, it operates flawlessly at 10dB signal-to-noise (7.5dB in theory).

    It also allows each frequency to be used for countrywide coverage, rather than the 4 or 5 frequencies necessary for one station to achieve national FM coverage. Its very spectrum-efficient, and for that reason is still the best candidate for eventual German adoption.

    the problem is that commercial radio is supported by adverts, and these are "crap" - even in Richard Branson's own words - they're intrusive, moronic, repetitive, loud, irrelevant and boring. Well, for the most part anyway.

    In a world where high-quality internet radio is available, with no adverts, or foreign adverts, commercial radio (as it is today) will fail, it has been out-competed.

    This should not be seen as a failure of the DAB means-of-supply, but of the content provider's business model. - and this is the real message from Germany, commercial radio as a business cannot afford investment right now.

    The american answer is to provide an advert-free premium service, though this is in big trouble, and may not see the year out. DAB can support encrypted channels, but these will compete with "free" in the home, and soon, "almost free" in the car.

    I don't have an answer, maybe we wait for commercial radio to die, and then use the bandwidth to freely broadcast the top 50 internet stations.

    Maybe commercial radio can re-invent itself as something more people can stand listening to?

  16. Christian Berger Silver badge

    In case you are interrested in the history of digital radio here

    There's a great video here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpypIcu_byg

  17. Al 4

    Paid Politico's

    Do you ever wonder how much the politicians are getting shoved into their back pockets to force stuff on us that nobody really wants? If the radios cannot run for at least a week (not even expecting a month) on one 9 volt battery then the technology is inferior by a magnitude for every day less it can operate.

    What I get tired of is having technology changes forced onto us so that a company can make more money on selling us features and functionality that we don't care about and doesn't necessarily work as well as the previous.

  18. toejam13

    It has its uses...

    Anonymous Coward: "First we have to have digital TV whether we like it or not. Now digital radio."

    Digital television, at least here in the States, was pushed (in part) as a means to fix the adjacent UHF channel issue. Historically, you couldn't have two analog stations close to each other on the UHF band because they would clobber each other. This was due to limits with "SuperHET" tuners and just the general characteristics of AM television transmissions. That's why in North America, UHF channels were often 6 channels apart from each other. Therefore, by switching to DTV, radio licensing authorities were able to consolidate UHF channels, allowing them to sell bandwidth in the upper UHF television band (ch52-69/700-800MHz) for big money. Governments get cash, commercial interests get a new product to sell, and we get new bandwidth for our wireless gadgets.

    Meanwhile, digital radio really isn't being pushed by government officials. This is strange because it could be used as a way to radically expand radio channel capacity. Your average wideband FM radio station in the VHF Band II (88-108MHz) uses a 200KHz channel slot. By switching to a digital radio standard that uses 50KHz channel slots, you could get 4x as many stations.

    You could also use it as an opportunity to expand the range of radio stations. Here in North America, most of the TV stations dumped the VHF Band I (ch2-6/54-88MHz) for DTV transmissions because of atmosphere reflections and other issues. Imagine having 1,000 radio stations by combing both Band I and II together. Even if your metro area only used a quarter of them to keep adjacent channel interference down, that would be a huge gain over what we have today.

    I think one reason why digital radio has sucked up till now is because many have been MPEG-2 layer-2 based. Unless you have a very wide channel, it doesn't leave enough room for both audio and high amounts of error correction. Since the channels were too narrow, you had crappy sound.

    Now that we have a newer generation of standards, including HDRadio, DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcasting Plus), DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) and DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), all of which use MPEG-4 HE-AAC (or a proprietary variant of HE-AAC for HDRadio), broadcasters are able to include enough error correction so that a light breeze doesn't cause the signal to fall over.

    Problem is, there are too many standards. And there are too many bands for audio. Too many interests with too much money at stake. Every country wants to do it a different way. So, expect that multiband radios will become a fixture in our future if you plan on any sort of international travel, or if you live near a border.

  19. David Ramsay
    Grenade

    But I have an e-mail

    ... saying there is no intention of abandoning analogue transmission.

    I therefore put it quite simply - the European Convention on Human Rights - states you have a right to receive and impart information.

    I therefore contend that if they wish to closedown analogue then I will respectively request the powers that be they replace FREE OF CHARGE all my analogue receiving equipment with the proviso that it must be equal to or greater in fidelity and reception to that which I currently enjoy.

    That means a replacement for my home cinema, hifi radio, alarm radio and car hifi.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    "a fixed group delay"

    "a fixed group delay so that all radios in the house (say) output the same sound at the same time instead of sounding like a comedy echo/delay special effect."

    The start of Radio 4's Six O'Clock news, with the chimes of Big Ben, must be hilarious in a house like yours. Not to mention the pips being wrong by a few seconds on any digital service, be it DAB, Freeview, or online. Odd. I know why it happens, I don't understand why it's allowed.

    "We explode ze bombs at 12 noon precisely, just after you drive the truck across the bridge".

    tick tock tick tock

    bang

    vroom

    whoops shouldn't have set my watch from the DAB.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Radio choice in the UK? I don't think so.

    I've just had a channel update to my PC's TV+radio guide. Another ten formerly local or regional commercial stations have just been rebranded as Heart FM of one flavour or another, making a total of 33 formerly independent stations now broadcasting Heart programmes. Scotland, north east England and southern Wales haven't been conquered yet but they can't be far off.

    Yet more evidence that the broadcasters aren't interested in local content, they don't care about the "choice" that DAB could offer, they just want maximum ad revenue for minimum broadcast cost. They've got shareholders, what else should we expect? The "loving awareness" era was a long time ago, whatever "The Boat That Rocked" may have tried to have you believe.

    Actually, we are entitled to expect Ofcon to enforce the original licences (with their regional content requirements) or shut the stations down but Ofcom as usual let the industry get away with whatever it wants.

  22. David 45

    A con

    DAB is one of the worst cons pulled on an unsuspecting British public. We were promised super-dooper, near-CD quality. Great things were on the cards. What do we get? More and more stations shoe-horned in at ever-decreasing bit-rates and one (BBC7) in MONO, for goodness sake! Don't anyone dare tell me it doesn't matter. There are numerous re-runs (plays, etc.) that were originally broadcast in stereo and can be heard in their full glory on BBC7 from satellite. There was also talk of user-adjustable compression. That died a death and most stations butcher the sound before it enters the transmission chain with hideous amounts of audio processing and compression - just like good old FM. I protested to the Radio Authority (as was at the time) about it but got absolutely nowhere - the same result on previous occasions when I complained about the original Jazz FM station blatantly changing their format. Now it's Ofcom and they seem to have inherited the same set of useless teeth.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    DAB in Oz

    We just went live with a handful of (government-sponsored, of course) new DAB+ stations here in Oz. Totally underwhelming. And, according to the three people who actually have receivers, the quality is poor - FM is better.

    Oz has a pretty good network of FM radio stations - a lot more so than the UK, AFAIK - and the quality and content are both pretty good.

    I, for one, will not be bothering with DAB.

  24. rhydian
    Thumb Down

    The problem with DAB #3432

    The simple problem with DAB is the fact that the coverage is pitiful compared to FM and MW/LW. Even when its wound up to full power the frequencies used are higher than currently used and thus won't travel as far. Its all well and good saying that ubiquitous wireless interwebs are all we need but the fact is that FM and MW/LW radio can be received at the moment in 99.99% of the country right now, whereas wireless internet via mobile phone networks is much more hit and miss.

    Also, when everyone switched from AM to FM there was a marked improvement in sound quality and it made sense. The problem with DAB is that there is little gain (apart from the odd specialist station) and that depends on you being within farting distance of a transmitter.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    What I don't get is...

    1. When you can receive DAB perfectly, the sound quality is poor, certainly not as good as FM.

    2. Receivers consume more energy. (they be be getting better but the latest DAB still consumes more than the latest non-DAB)

    3. The argument is that the FM network needs a huge amount of money to keep it going so let's save that money by moving to DAB

    4. The next argument is "FM will be kept going for other uses, just not for national radio" - so how will you pay for the FM network maintenance that we are told is so desperately needed we must move to DAB because FM is old and knackered? (I do hope no one ever applies that test to me!)

    It's a con, just like mobile phones and IP telephony. In the peak of the analogue phone days you had reliable connections (mostly) and the sound *quality* was good. Now we have *advanced* to the point where we all accept poor quality lines, drop outs, dropped calls etc. as normal. Admittedly, we have the great advantage of mobility, but generally speaking, call quality is rubbish. Listen to any phone in - you can easily spot the voip and mobile ones, they sound like Norman Collier if anyone apart from me can remember that far back.

    With DAB, the carrot is the number of stations we will get, but the quality is rubbish. Perhaps most people don't care, but I think a significant number do.

    I don't like the argument that as soon as the FM community is in a minority we will switch it off, either. By the same argument, the DAB community is a minority now and so DAB could be switched off now. But switching that off would be as unfair as switching off FM.

    Why not put the locals on DAB and leave FM alone? If there is a demand for locals then surely people wil lfall over themselves to buy receivers...

    Mine's the one with the Dab receiver in the left pocket and the FM in the right.

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