30 years ago, when the Institut für
Rundfunktechnik — a research center focusing on broadcasting technology
sponsored by public-service broadcasters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland —began work on what would eventually become the Eureka-147 DAB project,
no one could have predicted how tangled the implementation of digital radio
would become globally.
A promotional image from DRD Digitalradio
Deutschland features a Dual DAB 4 DAB+ receiver. Image courtesy DRD Digitalradio Deutschland
Worldwide, radio remains primarily analog, but the past year
has seen progress toward a multiplatform future in which digital radio is an
In the United Kingdom, the year ended with 29.1 percent of
radio listening happening via a digital platform, according to the fourth
quarter 2011 RAJAR audience measurement survey. That is up from 25 percent for
the same quarter of 2010. The vast majority of these listeners are tuning
through DAB receivers, although radio listening through a digital television
platform and via the Internet also saw growth.
Elsewhere, digital radio saw steady progress in Australia,
Czech Republic, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, Switzerland and other regions. In
Norway, regulators have set 2017 as the year national public-service and
commercial broadcasters sunset their analog operations; local radio will still
have the option to operate on FM, however.
The biggest spur for digital radio in Europe, however came
in August 2011 when German public and private broadcasters collaborated in a
nationwide launch of DAB+ services.
DAB is a variant of the Eureka-147 DAB
standard that uses a more efficient audio codec (HE-AAC v2) than the original
DAB and more robust error correction.
With the backing of broadcasters and automakers, and a
launch that coincided with the IFA international consumer electronics show in
Berlin, German transmission-services provider Media Broadcast switched on a
network of 27 transmitters covering some 38 million potential listeners and
providing 14 new digital radio services. All major cities in Germany are
covered by the DAB+ network.
Taxi-back signs in Adelaide, South Australia, were
part of a pre-Christmas campaign to promote digital radio. Image courtesy Commercial Radio Australia
“In 2010, we would have little idea that the German market would so effectively
and cohesively work together to bring digital radio to one of the largest radio
markets in Europe in such a short space of time,” said Jørg Jensen, president
of the WorldDMB Forum, which promotes the Eureka-147 family of standards.
successful launch, and continued collaboration and development within Germany,
has certainly had an impact on the rest of Europe.”
The gains of 2011 were not universal, however. MediaCorp in
Singapore stopped simulcasting its FM programs on DAB in December 2011. The
broadcaster found that listeners in the city-state were making greater use of
its MeRaido app for streaming audio to phones than its DAB broadcasts.
But digital radio is not synonymous with DAB. The DRM30
system for digital broadcasting below 30 MHz and the FM HD Radio system saw
movement during 2011.
Public-service broadcaster All India Radio doubled the hours
of DRM30 programming it broadcasts on shortwave during 2011, and is upgrading
and installing new transmitters across the country to expand its DRM30
In June 2011, as RW has reported, Mexico expanded
authorization for broadcasters to use HD Radio nationwide. Previously, AM and
FM HD Radio broadcasts were only allowed within about 200 miles of the northern
What makes these advances more remarkable is that they
happened during a prolonged global economic crisis.
Cantopop singer Charmaine Fong joined an RTHK DAB
Road Show event at Tsz Wan Shan Shopping Centre in November 2011 to promote the
launch of DAB+ in Hong Kong. Image courtesy RTHK
“Introducing a new digital technology globally, against the reality of a
serious economic crisis, is a huge and lengthy process,” said DRM Consortium
Chair Ruxandra Obreja. However, “Where the benefits of digital radio are clear
for all stakeholders — listeners, manufacturers, broadcasters and regulators —
there is progress.”
WorldDMB noted that despite the overall difficult market for
consumer electronics, sales of DAB receivers seem to be doing well. For
example, “In Australia in late 2011, despite one of the weakest retail markets for
many years, sales of digital radios recorded their biggest quarterly jump since
Christmas 2010,” Jensen said.
IBiquity Digital VP InternationalBroadcasting
Business Development Scott Stull
said that rolling out digital radio during the economic crisis may benefit
digital radio in the long term.
broadcasters are rethinking business strategies, distribution methods and
listener services in order to remain relevant, and digital broadcasting is
being folded into this process. Digital radio is no longer a technical
decision. Instead, decisions are being based on which approach will prove most
beneficial to the business of radio ...” Stull said.
careful consideration is seen in the creative ways digital radio has been used
to expand options for listeners, such as the pop-up DAB-only services pioneered
Such time-limited services began as commercial
opportunities, for example to promote Australian tours by artists such as P!nk,
but at the end of 2010 and in early 2011, the public-broadcaster Australian
Broadcasting Corp. used the same model to help communicate during disasters.
ABC QLD Floods took a local ABC channel nationwide with information about
severe flooding in Queensland at the start of 2011. A few weeks later, a
similar station was launched to help keep friends and relatives across the
Tasman Sea informed after a 6.3 Mw earthquake in Christchurch, New
“There is the need for broadcasters to create the kind of exciting,
new, multi-platform content that will convince the listeners to abandon their
old, much loved analog radio for something new that offers not just good audio
[on its own not a compelling reason any longer] but maybe a bit more,” Obreja
of that additional value is coming from the European Broadcasting Union, which
has developed a palette of tools to promote “hybrid radio,” an effort to bridge
analog and digital broadcast radio with IP-delivered content. Building on RadioDNS,
hybrid radio helps deliver images, descriptive text and other content to radio
listeners in an efficient manner, regardless of the transmission standard.
Broadcasters will have more chances to find ways to create
that “a bit more,” especially as nations near the 2015 to 2020 deadlines to
transition to digital television, which frees up spectrum for other uses and
acclimates consumers to the idea of digital broadcasting.
Digital Radio Receivers on Rise
NXP Semiconductor’s SAF356X co-processor, introduced at CES 2012,
handles HD Radio, DAB/DAB+/T-DRM and
DRM30/DRM+ on a single module for automotive receivers.
the beginning, digital radio has faced a “chicken or egg” problem. Would
broadcasters invest in digital radio without receivers on the market for
listeners to use? Would receiver manufacturers make products without
programming for listeners to tune?
with automakers and consumer electronics moving ahead to add digital radio
options to at least some of their products, the stalemate seems to have broken.
Throughout 2011, the WorldDMB Forum worked with automakers to speed the
integration of DAB/DAB+/T-DMB into new
models. The launch of DAB+ in Germany was
backed by BMW, Audi and Daimler, and German broadcasters are including TMC/TPEG
traffic information services as part of the DAB+
When the 2015 FM analog shutoff date
was first being discussed, automakers came together and set 2014 as the target
date to have DAB receivers in all new cars for the U.K. market; Ford has
accelerated its timetable to 2013.
According to data from a survey
completed by a trade group representing the interests of British auto
industry and the British equivalent of the Kelley Blue book, some 20.1 percent of new U.K.
cars had a DAB receiver as standard in the fourth quarter of 2011, up from just
7.7 percent for the same quarter of 2010.
many markets, DAB/DAB+ is offered as an option or standard by Audi, BMW, Fiat,
Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Renault, Seat, TVR,
Toyota, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Volvo.
2011 saw the introduction of several new aftermarket DAB adaptors, such as the
Pure Highway 300Di, making it possible to add digital radio reception to
Similarly, iBiquity reports that 23 automakers offer HD Radio technology
in approximately 100 models in this country; in about half of those. HD Radio
2011 last fall, the DRM Consortium highlighted its new receiver partnerships,
which included manufacturers developing DRM30/DRM+ receivers for in-car and
digital radio receivers make their way into cars, the next steps will be in the
realms of multi-standard receivers and the integration of digital radio
receivers with mobile phones.
At CES 2012, NXP
Semiconductors introduced an automotive digital co-processor, the SAF356X, that
supports HD Radio, DAB/DAB+/T-DMB, and
Receiver introductions in other form factors are expected to increase
during the coming year, too. WorldDMB Forum indicated that a mobile phone with
an embedded DAB/DAB+/T-DMB was expected to be
released at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona in March.
Also, in 2013 the patent on
Eureka-147 DAB (although not on DAB+ or T-DMB) will expire,
which WorldDMB Forum expects will have a positive effect on manufacturers
looking to include DAB on their devices.
— T. Carter Ross
In the near term, however, 2012 is expected to see continued
expansion of digital radio.
Hong Kong has launched DAB+ broadcasts with a
total of 13 channels from several private operators and from public-service
broadcaster RTHK. An additional five channels are slated to launch by the
second quarter of 2012. By March 2012, a total of seven hilltop transmission
sites are expected to cover 95 percent of the population of Hong Kong with DAB+
signals, according to proponents.
In France, regulators are considering adding DAB+
services to existing DMB-A services. DAB+ trials are under way in
Nice and Marseille, and local broadcasters are pushing for support for
additional trials across the county.
Poland is planning a four-city DAB+ trial to
coincide with the Euro 2012 soccer championship in June. Matches will be held
in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk and Poznan, and the regional public-service
broadcasters in the cities, along with Polskie Radio, will cooperate in the
A DAB+ trial is ongoing in Malaysia, and Italy and Spain
have also moved forward with clear plans to launch digital radio networks. Additional
trials and launches are planned for Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa and
IBiquity is looking beyond 2012 to 2013 for a full-scale
rollout of HD Radio services across Mexico; the company also is promoting trial
projects in the Philippines, Romania, Thailand and Bangladesh.
South Korea is among the nations looking to complete its
digital television transition in 2012, and then attention will turn to digital
radio, according to the Korean World DMB association. Eureka-147-based T-DMB
multimedia broadcasting, including DAB audio services, is well established in
the county, but further development of multimedia radio services for 2014.
In Japan a similar transition needs to be worked out; 2011
saw the end of test services launched in 2003 by Digital Radio Promotion
Association in Osaka and Tokyo using the ISDB-TSB standard. With the
Japanese DTV transition expected to end this March, there are hopes that
attention will turn to the digital radio, although no projects have been
Russia and India are progressing with their DRM30 rollouts,
but the DRM+ system, which is designed for operation in the VHF frequency
bands, is gaining interest, too. In January 2012, the International
Telecommunications Union added DRM+ to its recommendations for digital sound
broadcasting in the 30 MHz to 3 GHz range.
In late 2011, DRM+ also
received backing from community broadcasters when Community Media Forum Europe
[CMFE] and AMARC Europe, the European arm of the World Association of Community
Radio Broadcasters, called upon E.U. officials to support and promote DRM+ as
the primary digital radio standard for small-scale broadcasting.
February, the European Commission’s Information Society and Media
Directorate-General replied to CMFE and AMARC stating that E.U. member states
have not sought continent-wide coordination on digital radio standards and that
current policy is to maintain neutrality in terms of technology.
CMFE/AMARC call for DRM+ underscores one problem that remains for digital
radio. While different standards may better suit varying broadcast needs, multi-standard
receivers that make tuning across standards and bands are still needed. The
European Commission noted positive signs of multiplatform support in its reply
to CMFE and AMARC.
T. Carter Ross is former editor in
chief of Radio World International.