back to article Not so fast on FM switch-off: DAB not so hot say small broadcasters

Norway's plan to ditch FM radio broadcasting has come under fire from that country's smaller broadcasters. The Register reported last week that with digital reaching its audience targets, the government set a 2017 date for the death of analogue FM radio in that country - freeing up spectrum for "digital dividend"-style …

  1. chriswakey

    TeamRock Radio ditching DAB

    Annoyingly, TeamRock Radio are binning DAB to go online/mobile app only, despite pretty much every person commenting on their website & FB page saying it'll stop them from listening due to not having unlimited data to piss away.

    TRR have already said it'll save them around £1m per year in fees...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TeamRock Radio ditching DAB

      TeamRock radio have an app??

      I couldn't find it in the play store when I last looked, better try harder.

      1. Hellcat

        Re: TeamRock Radio ditching DAB

        They probably mean via any number of streaming apps.

        I've always used Tunin radio. Loads of stations, all on a standardised UI and available on almost all platforms including us weird Win phoners. Saves having to download an app per station - providing its not Android and iOS only!

  2. phil dude
    Boffin

    ironically....

    There is a campaign here in the US to get all the smartphone FM chips turned on (Not specific affects Apple and Android but not M$ I think). It could well be a vital resource in disasters.

    FM and AM should be continued for technological backward compatibility, if only because receivers can be built out of discrete components.

    Not a Ham or anything, but my undergrad was EE, and I built electronic/digital stuff as a kid....;-)

    This is one of the many skills we should pass on...

    P.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: ironically....

      Guess it depends on where you get the phone. Most of the Chinese phones IIRC have the FM tuner included in the SoC simply because it was easy enough to throw it in and expands the versatility and saleability of anything it goes in. A relatively inexpensive Samsung phone I have has the capability, but you probably won't expect it in top-end phones.

  3. jjcoolaus

    No natural disasters in Norway then?

    Does Norway never see a wild fire or other natural disaster? What about a nationwide blackout caused by a terrorist attack?

    The closure of FM (and what about AM by the way) can have serious consequences.

    One FM or AM radio can last for months playing 24/7 on a set of batteries, and emergency (or "wind up") and solar radios can theoretically go for years (or even decades)

    A DAB radio wouldn't even last a week on batteries. Some would barely last a day.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: No natural disasters in Norway then?

      Most DAB sets about 6 Hours.

      Many AM/FM sets over 300 Hours. Even a 1939 Battery valve radio (MW & LW) is about 250 hours, and about 100 Hours for late 1950s AM/FM Valve radio.

      It's not viable from point of view of space or power consumption to fit a DAB radio in a Mobile phone. My Sony Xperia Z1 has a FM + RDS station ID and is easier to use than almost all DAB/FM sets on the market. Works better than any FM set I have (though needs headphones as aerial). About 20 local stations.

      There is no "digital dividend" application for Band II. Even the TV "digital dividend" was mostly a windfall for regulators selling licences and allows Mobile operators to build fewer basestations in Rural areas (= lower capacity) for same coverage. The Mobile operators are not interested in Best coverage or capacity, Their licence doesn't demand it. Instead they want to maximise return on minimal capital investment. It makes no sense for them to have x5 as many bases so that consumers get better speed and coverage as they would make hardly any extra revenue and a loss considering running costs, never mind CapEx.

      Digital Dividend is a fraud.

      DAB only is advantage for NATIONAL broadcaster with multiple channels. Also they are having DAB at about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost it should be due to sub FM quality bit rate (DAB+ is only used to fit in twice as many stations, never for more quality, beside at 192kbps or 256k bps the saving on AAC for the same quality for those with impared hearing is closer to 10% to 20% rather than the 50% of a 128kbps MP2 -> 64kbps AAC on DAB+. Even then some material will sound worse, especially to those with less than perfect hearing.

      1. The last doughnut

        Re: No natural disasters in Norway then?

        My Sony Z3 has an FM receiver function and yes it needs the headphones lead as an aerial. BUT if it was DAB it would need two leads for diversity receive AND would still suffer from the dreaded bubbling mud.

        Dead As Betamax.

  4. Andy 97
    Mushroom

    DAB is only useful for big stations.

    The cost of putting a station onto DAB is prohibitive for all except the big players.

    I have actually investigated DAB carriage (where I live) for a small radio station, the economics make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    Radio is all about putting bums on seats and then selling this audience to advertisers.

    Going on DAB isn't about simply pushing a transport stream into a transmitter on a hill a few kilometres from your studio - no, you have to back-haul it to somewhere hundreds of miles, then you're at the mercy of the franchise holder's pricing model. If you're lucky you'd get 64kbps in mono on their mux.

    1. The obvious

      Re: DAB is only useful for big stations.

      "Bloke in shed starts own DAB radio station - with Ofcom's blessing"

      Setup would work fine with a Raspberry Pi, he says...

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/06/open_source_hacks_dab_to_the_masses/

      Since local stations could still reasonably use similar transmission power and host their own mux using a raspberry pi or similar I'm not seeing a huge cost burden here. Am I missing something?

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Devil

        Ofcom's propaganda

        Yes, you are missing a lot.

  5. Fihart

    DAB DRAB !

    Finally got a DAB radio (cheapo portable from Argos). Mixed feelings.

    Ignoring the anti-intuitive controls on this particular model and the predictably laughable battery life.

    Reliable reception on the stations it receives in my North London location, fairly high up -- though doubtless many other stations it doesn't get. Nice to get Classic FM more reliably than via my expensive FM tuner. Radio4 Extra is my main reason for turning it on.

    However. So many music station are at less than MP3 quality (I can't quite see how better radios are affected less by that as claimed in a recent Sunday Times piece). If I wanted AM quality I wouldn't have bought a DAB.

    So many stations are irrelevant to me (religious nuts, foreign language stations, sport). Looks like DAB has gone the way of Freeview -- too many stations, too little quality content.

  6. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Leaving aside the DAB/FM religious arguments for a moment, this:

    unlikely that DAB will be implemented on mobile phones (which usually have an FM receiver).

    is an interesting point. Why don't mobile phones do DAB/DAB+? On the face of it it wouldn't seem to be a difficult feature to add to a largely-SDR architecture.

    1. Vic

      Why don't mobile phones do DAB/DAB+?

      Power consumption.

      You know how quickly your battery runs down now? You'll get a small fraction of that time if you use DAB in any meaningful way...

      Vic.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        But why is DAB such a power hog and why can't anyone find a way to cut the power use on it?

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          "But why is DAB such a power hog and why can't anyone find a way to cut the power use on it?"

          The early ones were very poor and there are still many old ones about, but each evolution improves the situation. Roberts Ecologic 4 set claims 150 hours battery life though that may be to do with the big battery (6 x D cells). Frontier Silicon have a DAB receiver/processor module (Verona 2) that uses 100mw.

          The DAB+ standard which is live in some countries, but the UK is still talking about maybe doing it in a half arsed way is also an improvement on power use.

          I have a very old Roberts Gemini 49 with rechargeables (AA) that are charged in situ. It lasts about 24 hours for a 7 hour charge.

          So makers are finding ways to cut power use, and it's continually improving. Battery life is still not great but certainly better than the 6 hour BS that people are quoting (though the cheaper tiny pocket ones only manage about 7 hours).

          1. JimboSmith Silver badge

            The problem is that it is unlikely to ever be as or less power hungry as FM because the radio has to decode the entire MUX to get to the one station you want to listen to. Not ideak

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Power consumption.

        If I'm using my phone to play music it's usually plugged into a dock or power supply anyway, so that's not necessarily a problem.

    2. John 156
      Facepalm

      An anomaly, surely. The only thing I can think of is that Tim Cook does not want to sell an iBrick?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poor reception

    Listening to a Classic FM track on FM in bed last night - nice sound. Switched the radio to DAB to get a title check. The music was all hiss and bubble - although it did display the title information. Back to FM to enjoy the music. The kitchen radio (different manufacturer) is the same - and this is a densely populated part of the country.

    My DVB-T stopped working when they built a tall block of flats in the next street in my line of sight to Crystal Palace.

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Poor reception

      Apart from a larger choice of stations and less noise on perfectly received stations, there is nothing that DAB offers that FM and RDS/EON can't do/an equipped receiver. For example Currently playing track, Station ID, Show information, Traffic annoucements, Programme type are all available via RDS Timer, Recording, Rewind, Pause etc. are all possible and are dependent on your receiver spec. DAB battery life is cack because the radio has to receive an entire multiplex and then decode the data received to find the station you want to listen to and then play that one. That as opposed to FM where it's just one station per frequency etc.

      There was talk of putting DAB on phones and you may recall the Virgin Media Lobster phone which did just that but it was fairly hideous to look at and the reception stank even in central London. They tried adding TV to that (don't ask about the quality) and it didn't draw enough people in, D1 went back to just radio stations when that ended. That also didn't help as someone else mentioned the battery life which although wasn't bad to begin with as soon as you engaged the radio for a reasonable amount of time, you had to hope you weren't going to need the thing for anything serious like using it as a phone later on. Personally I've got loads of AM/FM radios most of which cover shortwave too and my listening is done via those. I've got a couple of DAB radios from when I worked in the industry and they were given to me but they are in the attic just collecting dust. Wish there had been some sort of trade in programme so I could have got money off my Sangean ATS-909X which I bought to go with my Sony ICF-SW100 on my travels.

    2. Pookietoo

      Re: My DVB-T stopped working

      Have you tried a log periodic aerial? The one I tried (just a temporary set-up - we mostly use cable) worked wonders for our DVB-T reception. It was mounted too low, pointed at the wrong transmitter (according to everyone else's aerials) blocked by large trees and it worked brilliantly.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's almost like Government wanted to control the media

    Just a thought....

    1. James Pickett

      Re: It's almost like Government wanted to control the media

      Ain't it just? I have long wondered where the 50% uptake figure came from, and why that implies that the other 50% can then be ignored. IIRC, the digital TV switch required >90% of users to have necessary receivers, and I suspect that most households have more radios than TV's. I should also like to know how many DAB radio owners are classified as users when they operate it in FM...

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Boffin

      The only argument left for DAB is more stations. But 68 to 88 (with the odd gap) could be easily added. Some sets even cover this. A gadget costing £5 running for months on on 2 x AAA or a year on 2 x AA would add the band doubler to existing sets. Similarly 175MHz to 195MHz could be added. Amazingly some old FM radios have this too, as well as a few new ones. Gadget only needs 3 way band switch. 175MHz to 195MHz was used for 405 TV. The band now used for DAB.

      Very niche stations can be replaced by Streaming or users MP3 playlist at 256k or 320kbps, they are not economic even on National DAB at 64kbps, but ego of broadcasters.

      42MHz to 87MHz and 175MHz to 275MHz after close of Band I and Band III TV were assumed to be repurposed for private Mobile use and DAB. Very few fleets use Two Way Radio now, people use Mobile phones. 195MHz to 275MHz and other gaps between 275MHz and 470MHz are enough for Two Way Radio. Tetra is in the 400MHz band along with SRD, amateur radio and PMR446 walktakies.

      The wrong (greedy) decisions made about Band I and Band III at 405 TV closedown in 1985.

      There is no Digital Dividend for Band II FM as DAB can't ever be economic for local stations. Nor can it (or DTT Radio) be ever economic for a Consumer's radio.

      Digital Radio with more than one mux also is too slow to change station.

      DAB has become an expensive duplication of DTT. DTT renders DAB obsolete. DVB-T2 has been demonstrated to even give better coverage than DAB. It's more believable given huge market that a pocket DTT set can be used as a Radio cheaper than a DAB set. Also under £10 for DTT USB stick for Netbook/Laptop. In theory on a Tablet.

      DTT phones existed before iPhone. A phone with DTT and FM makes more sense than DAB.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        why the downvote?

        Would the person who downvoted this very informative post care to explain why they did this?

        It is almost getting to the point where posting anything useful is a waste of time.

        no, I'm not the poster.

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: why the downvote?

          Probably someone in BBC, RTE, Ofcom, Comreg or NRK.

          Or someone that thinks Digital = Better.

          Pirate Icon.

          The gear to do DAB properly and professionally with a card in a PC is quite affordable. Why no Pirates? Perhaps they are more realistic than Ofcom, Comreg, BBC, RTE and NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) and the Norwegian regulator.

        2. silent_count

          Re: why the downvote?

          "It is almost getting to the point where posting anything useful is a waste of time."

          You think too little of the commentards here if you think we get our knickers in a knot over a random downvote.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: why the downvote?

            Have a random downvote - you know, just for balance and entropy.

        3. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: why the downvote?

          Why give as hit about upvotes and downvotes if you are over 12 years old?

          They don't help good discussion, so the best thing to do is completely ignore them and just get on with it. If there was an option to switch them off and hide them I would use it. Reg forums are great apart from that kiddy feature.

          Basically, people will downvote something if they don't like what they read, even if it is undeniable truth and fact.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: why the downvote?

          "Very few fleets use Two Way Radio now,"

          Wrong, very wrong. While many of the traditional fleets (utilities, vehicle recovery, delivery services, traffic wardens...) have indeed moved to data networks, guess where in the spectrum many of those networks operate? And as those users moved away from voice the falling cost of radio equipment meant a huge increase in the number of individual users (shops, schools, sports facilities, building sites, childrens nurseries...).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: why the downvote?

            Actually, many emergency services still rely on two-way radio due to the KISS principle which can be a matter of life and death during an emergency situation. Two-ways are self-transmitting (don't rely on a fixed antenna), usually self-powered (batteries), don't have to fiddle with configurations (just select the channel), and for the most part "just work," even when everything else is broken (something distressingly common in disasters).

  10. Hilibnist

    When 50% isn't half

    I think we've seen this before, haven't we? 50% of those who responded have access to listen to digital radio in some form, but that's not the same as 50% of listeners actively preferring digital. Only 19% listen regularly and I wonder how many of that 19% listen exclusively on digital?

    If access to one digital stream during the day is the indicator for being ready to turn off FM, maybe I should deny having any access at all... if anybody asked!

    Out of curiosity, has anybody here ever been ‘officially’ polled or surveyed whether they’re ready to switch, or are the statistics just based on numbers of sets sold? I wonder what those numbers are…

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: When 50% isn't half

      It's done on the Rajar listening figures and includes DAB, DVB, Streaming etc. The diaries aren't that reliable* (yes you still have to fill out a diary if you are picked) they did try electronic meters but they weren't able to get the things to work satisfactorily. The 50% of Digital listening (not just DAB) is down to the fact that if it was just based on DAB we'd still be here in 2025 waiting for 50%.

      *Although no one will admit that because the industry are totally reliant on Rajar listener numbers for selling adverts and can't afford to rock the boat.

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Big Brother

        Re: When 50% isn't half

        Yes, DAB is only a percentage of "Digital Listening".

        It would be daft to turn off robust broadcasting in favour of unicast Internet, which has no privacy and is fragile. On the internet the provider (and probably Google, GCHQ and NSA) knows roughly where you are, when you listen and to what, and with Google's help maybe eventually who you are. Not pleasant in a Democracy, a disaster in many countries.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. akeane
    Coat

    Put it in a mobile handset...

    ... and call it the DAB Hand

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Local radio for local people, in times of trouble

    BBC Radio Carlisle seem to have played a very important role in local emergencies on two occasions in the last decade - the floods in 2005, and more floods in 2009. From memory, in 2005, tens of thousands of people were without grid power for days, and the BBC local radio was a major part of emergency communications.

    Even in not quite so stressful times, the BBC local stations that still exist play an important role.

    Random samples:

    2005: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSEj5VWXIZw

    2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cumbria/hi/people_and_places/newsid_8378000/8378388.stm

    1. rhydian

      Re: Local radio for local people, in times of trouble

      The problem we had in my part of North Wales during the last weather "event" (the very high winds of early 2014) was that while I was sat there listening to our local BBC radio station, the signal was cutting in and out. It seems that BBC Radio Cymru is dish/microwave fed to our local transmitter (Llangollen VHF), and the receiving gear was taking such a battering it was moving out of alignment.

  13. rhydian

    DAB: A customer's view

    last year our local TV relay mast was, without any fanfare, upgraded to supply BBC DAB. As I was looking to buy a clock radio at the time I decided to go DAB, as the price difference was not massive.

    Now, I live in a stone built house (60cm/2ft walls), and while our local FM transmitter is a high power job and not overly far away (Llangollen VHF, 15-20 miles away), reliable and non-hissing reception required either sticking the radio in the window or using a carefully aimed amplified VHF aerial (in the case of an old HiFi).

    Having had the thing for almost a year, here's a quick run down of the good and bad bits of my DAB experience.

    The good points:

    While the DAB radio is a Mono/single speaker receiver, the sound quality is good and, more importantly, is consistently good. The lack of annoying hissing is very good, and the channel selection style of tuning works well if you occasionally want to listen to another station (you daren't retune an FM radio here, otherwise it takes you an age to get it "right" again).

    At the moment (and for the foreseeable future) we only get the BBC DAB multiplex, which does carry a decent range of stations and programmes. In our area BBC 5 live was always a hit and miss affair, as the MW signal did not take kindly to the mountains of North Wales.

    There are of course a few downsides however:

    The one that most annoys me is that due to the BBC DAB mux being UK wide, our "national" BBC stations (BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Wales) aren't carried on it. To get those, you have to swap back to FM (or in the case of Radio Wales, AM). That then entails adjusting the antenna to get as little hiss as possible (and as the transmitters aren't in the same place, adjusting it back for DAB). It seems that due to the unique way that DAB works, the BBC "national" multiplex has to be the same everywhere, with the BBC taking space on the local commercial multiplex for local services. The problem is of course that as I've mentioned above, we don't have (and probably will not have for some time) a commercial DAB multiplex.

    The other main issue is probably more of a software issue with the radio, but is still a mark against DAB. The problem is that the BBC loves setting up "pop up" DAB services such as Radio 2 country and also they like to shift radio 4 output such as "today in parliament" and morning worship to their own DAB services. What this means is that while these services aren't transmitting, they still appear in the station list, causing clutter. A factory reset kills them for a while, but the buggers always come back.

  14. Nifty

    Put the rubbish on DAB, decent stuff on FM

    If they were to put all the mono compressed low bitrate stuff on DAB (oh, it's mostly already there...), it would make lots of lovely room on FM!

    6 Music, 4xtra, World Service all to listen to reliably on my car radio.

    Then I woke up.

  15. jonfr

    Denmark to turn off FM in 2019

    Denmark is planning to turn off its FM broadcast signals in 2019. I don't know why since not many people in Denmark use DAB or DAB+ radios and few cars have them installed at the moment (far as I know).

    This won't apply to cable companies in Denmark that send FM signal over cable.

  16. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "Magic happens here." pointing to a fuzzy cloud shape in the plan

    DAB chips that are *actually* practical are on the horizon. Lower power, universal, cheap. A sensible transition plan would have those in widespread use before switching off the legacy.

    Imagine if they'd set an end date for road maintenance since Flying Cars would be here "any day now."

    Oh... ...perhaps that's what's happened.

  17. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    FAIL

    The Big DAB Mess That Perfectly Serves No One

    Knowing the outright POOR quality of iBiquity's fake 'HD' Radio in the USA, knowing it was a blatant SCAM pulled on the ignorant FCC, I checked out that nature of DAB in Norway. Here's what I found out as per the Wikipedia article on the subject:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Audio_Broadcasting

    1) Standard DAB digital resolution is only 128 kbit/s via the MP2 standard. This is at least better than the worthless 25 kbit/s 'fallback' resolution of awful iBiquity's fake 'HD' Radio using FM. But DAB is still lossy compression that is noticeably of lower quality than any standard FM radio signal.

    2) As per any digital radio standard, once you're beyond a threshold signal strength, the audio simply drops out. It's gone. In intermittent areas or areas of interference, the audio will break up in the usual way of streaming digital media. Despite hype to the contrary, radio listeners would rather listen to the fade out effects of an analog FM signal.

    3) Europe sadly added to this mess by creating the upgraded DAB+ standard that is NOT backwards compatible with older DAB. This leaves all older DAB-only hardware as worthless junk.

    Reading further into the specs only makes the DAB/DAB+ mess look worse.

    If actual DAB is what Norway is choosing to use for their digital radio standard, they are making a GRAVE MISTAKE.

    The USA mess that is iBiquity's fake 'HD' Radio can be read about here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_Radio

    Concept: How about THE WORLD comes up with an actual SUPERIOR TO FM quality digital radio standard by booting out corporatocracy biznizz bozoz out of the conversation and instead serving THE CITIZENS what they want and deserve. That means no compromising of audio quality. No lossy compression. No compromised signal strength. No DRM rubbish. No having to pay royalties to some protocol owning corporation. And so forth.

    If this concept is to become real, all the utter crap currently foisted on the world under the guise of 'digital radio' has got to first be tossed in the global dumpster, where it belongs.

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