Cooperation Key to Radio’s Digital Future
— The European Broadcasting Union's “Digital
Radio Summit,” held in Geneva on Feb. 12 reflected the significant interest in
digital radio across Europe.
DAB+ module, on display at the Digital Radio Summit.
The summit, which takes place during a
week when the EBU also hosts meetings for digital radio industry groups, attracted
a full house and offered insight into digital radio adoption from a number of international
Opening the day, Annika Nyberg
Frankenhauser, the EBU's media director, cited the example of Finnish public
service broadcaster YLE's failure to implement digital radio in the country in
the late 1990s, blaming the broadcaster’s inability to cooperate with its commercial
radio colleagues. “To drive digital radio, cooperation is key,” she said, in a
speech that outlined some of the work that the EBU is currently involved with.
Throughout Europe, countries that are
pursuing a digital radio strategy are doing so using DAB+ in Band III. An
increase in choice is cited as being the main consumer benefit, as well as
sound quality benefits in comparison to AM broadcasts. For multichannel
national and regional broadcasters, DAB+ offers reductions in transmission
costs and spectrum use.
The United Kingdom is the only European
country still using the original, backward-compatible, DAB platform, though BBC
Principal Systems Architect Lindsay Cornell highlighted that receivers placed
in cars will be DAB+ compatible. He pointed out that 43.7 percent of all new
cars sold in the U.K. came with DAB+ fitted as standard, and that 23.4 percent of
radio listening is now via DAB.
Digital switchover — closing FM broadcasting in favor of digital — is planned in various European countries. This would mean that
most large broadcasters would switch to digital radio exclusively, although some
small broadcasters would still have access to the FM band. Some EU states are
discussing target dates for switchover as well as conditions for analog to be
Delegates were told that Norway has announced
2017 as its target date with a number of different criteria to achieve in
regard to audience penetration and coverage. Denmark has similarly announced
2019 as its target date. The U.K. and Switzerland have agreed to turn off FM
when conditions are met; though have yet to commit to a date.
“The question is not whether DAB+ will
prevail in Switzerland, it’s when it will do so,” said Nancy Wayland Bigler,
from Swiss media regulator Ofcom. She noted that the country’s current FM
broadcasting licenses expire in 2019.
The mobile phone was also a subject of
much debate. Javier Sánchez, director of Technical Strategy at Spanish public broadcaster
RNE, outlined the EBU’s intention to work with the Universal Smartphone Radio
Project. The project, which comprises members from the United States, Australia
and Europe, seeks to standardize APIs to radio chips inside mobile devices.
This would ensure broadcast radio is
available on a mobile phone and allow apps to use off-air reception as well as Internet
streaming. It was noted that activation of FM chips inside mobile phones by
manufacturers is decreasing, blamed on a poor user experience. Many speakers
dismissed claims that the mobile phone network will replace broadcasting.
Phil Stuchfield, broadcast media
specialist from auto manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover noted that AM and FM still remain
the most popular in-car entertainment. He quoted company research illustrating that
it is nearly double that of the second-most popular source. “3G is not in any
way suitable for streaming in-car,” he said.
Teracom Radio Product Manager Per Borgå
explored whether cellular networks would be able to take on the job of
broadcasting radio. Pointing
to a white paper commissioned by his company, he noted that radio consumption
is high and could not be wholly transferred to mobile networks easily.
consumption in Sweden, the paper's authors calculated, would account for
190,000 terabytes of data per year, which is more data transfer than the entire
Swedish mobile networks transfer annually. The LTE broadcast
mode was not practicable for mobile networks to implement, he explained, and
the mobile networks were not reliable enough for radio broadcast.
Nick Piggott, chair of the RadioDNS
Hybrid Radio project, announced that hybrid radio had been incorporated into a
range of Samsung smartphones in Europe and Asia. The newly released Samsung
Galaxy Express 2 LTE, the Galaxy Core Advance and the Galaxy Grand 2 include
RadioDNS Hybrid Radio functionality as standard, enabling a significantly
improved FM tuner app with visual accompaniment, interaction and automatic
He highlighted the number of
broadcasters now using the RadioDNS service, and described the announcement as
a landmark achievement for the not-for-profit project.
Head of Digital Radio Strategy for
Belgian public service broadcaster RTBF, Laurent Finet discussed the benefits
of a seamless hybrid experience for listeners; and highlighted the advantages that
broadcast chips and hybrid radio within connected devices can have on the
listener. Calling the result “smart radio,” he highlighted RTBF’s aim to
combine the power of free-to-air broadcasting with the Internet backchannel to
enable a more social and visual experience for radio.
A packed program, which offered plenty
of evidence of collaboration, the EBU Digital Radio Summit clearly demonstrated
that the radio industry is increasingly working together across Europe and with
other global broadcasters on its digital future.
Cridland reports on the industry for Radio World from London.