Commentary: DAB — Not Only Radio
OSLO, Norway — Most people instinctively think
that DAB is only for digital radio. In some ways they are right. But they are
also forgetting many important possibilities.
To think of DAB as solely an audio distribution
method is like buying a Leatherman multitool and then only using the knife or
the pliers. A Leatherman salesperson will show you, explain and demonstrate
everything — the wire cutters, the screwdrivers, the knives, the pliers, the
bottle opener, the can opener and the wine opener.
He or she will also tell you that it is made of
stainless steel, has anodized aluminum handle scales, comes with a 25-year
warranty and is available in various colors. They might even go through
measurements, the weight and, in the end, the price — with a possible discount.
Why all the effort? This is because the salesperson wants you to understand all
the benefits of the product so as to increase the likelihood of you actually
Let’s discuss DAB’s additional services, while of course not
forgetting digital radio. The latter clearly offers reduced power consumption,
improved coverage and signal robustness. But there is much more and it is
important to not overlook the potential. I am not only talking about reaching
traditional audiences. Business-to-business and machine-to-machine
communications are exploding and mobile Internet is neither cost-efficient nor
stable enough for the task. There are quite a few additional DAB services.
Among these is emergency communication. Broadcasting reaches everyone
instantly without capacity constraints. Mobile networks are quickly overloaded,
hence useless in an instant when they are needed the most.
Via DAB, rescue teams can override every radio
station with information to the public, or even switch the receiver on if it is
off. Graphical and textual information may also be transmitted, i.e. a
life-saving map in order to guide people out of a road tunnel where there is a
fire. That’s a disaster alarm, rescue instruction and public service
information all in one.
Traffic information is another benefit. It is able
to update drivers on the traffic situation and automatically reroute them to
avoid slow-moving traffic or an accident. Maps of a navigation unit may also be
updated. It is available to everyone at the same time and is much cheaper than
via telecom networks.
Then there are public transport updates. At bus
stops in the Netherlands, you will see screens telling you when the next one
arrives. That is admittedly not very unique, but the information is distributed
via DAB. The low-power consumption of DAB means that receivers run on solar
power, so no electricity needs to be installed to every bus stop. And again, it
is cheaper than via 3G/4G.
For educational purposes, the technology also
allows developing countries without Internet connections to receive updated
news and information via DAB.
Other advantages include added info, which enables extra
information to be broadcast together with audio, for example to see photos from
the studio, find out who sings which songs, study weather forecast maps or read
news stories. Or to find out what you missed out on or what will air next via
electronic program guides.
Then there is mobile TV, referred to as DMB, a
small part of the Eureka-147 standard, but the Leatherman saleswoman would
probably not confuse you with a new acronym. She might call it DAB-TV. Both
radio and mobile TV can reside on the same multiplex.
The technology can additionally trigger
interactivity. It is possible to use the screen to interact with services
provided by the radio broadcaster or a third-party company. It might be a vote,
discussion via social media, tagging of a song, distribution of an Internet
link or touchscreen shopping — all triggered via DAB.
There is also the potential for DAB technology to
control streetlights and to secure railway switches — DAB is being considered
as one of the distribution methods to manage switches in Europe.
Like the Leatherman salesperson I’ll also mention
a scenario: FM will be switched off in Norway in 2017, and replaced by DAB+.
When this happens, 99.5 percent of the population will receive at least 14
digital radio stations. This is more than they receive via FM and we call this
the democratization of radio.
Can we do all of this via mobile Internet? The
answer is no. Firstly because the Internet fails when disaster strikes,
particularly when everyone is trying to communicate or access information
simultaneously. Secondly, it requires a subscription. Thirdly, the coverage
area is considerably smaller than for DAB. The technology is also more
expensive than broadcasting, and less effective.
Finally, power consumption is much higher, both on
the transmitter and the receiver sides. I’ll refrain from listing more reasons
why we need DAB — in addition to mobile broadband. The initial sales pitch has
been completed. When will you opt for DAB?
Gunnar Garfors is president of the
International DMB Advancement Group (IDAG) and an advisor to NRK.
Radio World welcomes other points of view. Please
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