Ofcom Calls U.K. Small-Scale DAB Trials Successful

dab-radioRadio World  reported on 9/30/16 that the British government’s Office of Communication sees value in small scale DAB technology and will likely allow permanent licensing for smaller stations:

Ofcom recently completed a trial of its “small-scale DAB” technology for 70 local and community radio stations. The official report that Ofcom created for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport deemed the trials “a success.”

Small-scale DAB is designed to allow smaller radio stations that were not able to afford the United Kingdom’s DAB radio platform go on the airwaves with available software and equipment for a lower cost, explains Ofcom.

The regulator concluded with its trials that small-scale DAB works and stations were able to coordinate with multiplex licensees. It also said the trials suggest there is a demand from smaller radio stations for this technology.

The U.K. government will look over the findings before determining the next stages, but Ofcom claims that it is ready to work on any necessary steps to enable small-scale DAB stations to be licensed permanently.

Ofcom added that it has been contacted by other regulators in Europe who have expressed interest in using the same approach.

Ofcom notes:

The new technique, known as ‘small-scale DAB’, allows local and community stations to hit the airwaves using freely-available software and equipment costing from £9,000.

Previously, these stations have broadcast on analogue AM and FM, but have been held back by the higher cost of broadcasting on the UK’s Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio platform.

We have also identified space in the airwaves that could support a UK-wide roll out of the technology, using spectrum bands previously occupied by business radio. Re-using these bands could pave the way for hundreds more stations to join the digital radio revolution.

This certainly seems like it could open up room for a good deal of alternative programming targeted toward smaller communities. It will be interesting to see the developments and the impact on the local radio community.

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.


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6 thoughts on “Ofcom Calls U.K. Small-Scale DAB Trials Successful

  1. Mangosman

    This may be a “financial success” but it is hardly a success in other ways.
    1. The 1.5 MHz bandwidth of the DAB/DAB+ signal means that they have to share transmission channels with other broadcasters. As a result the radiated power is very low to minimise interference which causes unreliable reception. It also causes insufficient signals inside buildings causing the sound to break up.
    By comparison DRM+ has a channel which is less than 0.1 MHz and can operate in the FM band and 47 – 68 MHz band which is designated for ITU region 1 which is Europe and Africa. This band is a shared band. As a result there are up to 207 transmission channels allowing for each broadcaster to use more power without interference. Each transmitter can carry at least 2 stereo programs in very good quality. As a result it means that the transmitter can be in the middle of the small audience area.
    2. It is pleasing to see that many are taking up the DAB+ option. This will help put the nails in the DAB coffin allowing nearly all broadcasters on DAB+ to transmit stereo. The data rate is roughly half that of DAB so it could be used to improve the sound quality. The Manchester minimux has 28 programs on one transmitter making the data rate 64 kbit/s each, which makes good quality stereo sound. We have it in Australia on DAB+
    3. The error correction on DAB+ uses the same type as DAB but is more effective at the lower data rates, in addition the time interleaving means that the Reed-Solomon error correction applied prior to AAC-V2 decoding is more effective on impulse noise which comes from arcing, in switches, switchmode power supplies often used in lighting etc.

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  2. Cap

    The main reason this was carried out was possibly due to the approx. £80,000 cost (More in London!) to get on the DAB Multiplex which is completely out of reach for nearly all community stations. TBH even £9,000 is a bit much, why not encourage current FM stations onto DAB rather than restricting them.
    The other problem with DAB at present is the Commercial DAB mutliplex that carries national regional stations that don’t get carried if commercial stations don’t want their stations transmitted in certain regions because there is no commercial value. So licence fee payers in low denisty populated regions can’t get their regional radio station because of a badly thought out system (or deliberate system?) but can get national stations like the BBC World Service, Radio 4 et al.
    So DAB in the UK in its current form discriminates against UK regions (unless there is a high populus that can be exploited of course).
    I am not an anti-capitalist but having a system at present that discriminates against low density areas that already delivers DAB is both undemocratic and shameful.
    I welcome the results of the recent OFCOM trial, which are a step in the right direction.

    Reply
      1. Cap

        You can still get the regional stations/broadcasts on FM, although not having them on DAB flags up all sorts of issues.
        Remember that in the UK we have to pay a £147/$187 licence fee per year if you own a TV or watch on demand services provided by the BBC. So not getting a regional BBC station on DAB when people in that region pay the same licence as everyone else really annoys me.
        For anyone who complains about the DAB regional anomaly (not personally, but know people who have) are directed to FM and on demand services.

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