The author is president of, WorldDAB.
LONDON — When talking to broadcasters in markets yet to launch DAB digital radio, we often encounter the question: “Why should I invest in DAB+ when we could just use mobile and IP networks to reach listeners?”
Almost everyone uses mobile phones these days and it seems as though 3G and 4G coverage is everywhere — but do the arguments stack up and do mobile operators want to invest in their networks to deliver radio?
Patrick Hannon is president, WorldDAB
To address these questions, the WorldDAB team gathered existing research from around the world and spoke to experts from the radio and mobile worlds to better understand the issues and challenges. The outputs from this work include a factsheet, slideshare and interview with a 5G expert.
What is clear is that, while mobile can provide a complementary service to broadcast radio, delivering a comparable level of service (in terms of listener numbers) would require significant additional investment and there is no business case for mobile operators or broadcasters to fund it. In addition, there would be significant public welfare concerns if we become over-reliant on mobile networks.
The arguments can be broken down into three key areas: The infrastructure cost of providing adequate coverage via mobile; cost to listeners (data on the move); and reliability in emergencies.
Cost is the biggest issue for using mobile networks as the primary means for reaching listeners on the move. Put simply, the investment required to provide adequate widespread coverage via mobile networks is significantly higher than for DAB+. In the absence of significant payments from broadcasters, there is no compelling business case for mobile operators to make this investment.
Even in locations where infrastructure does exist, the distribution costs for broadcasters remain an issue. Recent research from the European Broadcasting Union modeled the cost of distributing radio for an “average” European national broadcaster and found that DAB costs are around US$2 million CAPEX plus $1million OPEX per year — but if broadcasters switch to IP these costs jump considerably to $9.8 million per year.
Then there’s the cost to listeners, who are used to receiving radio over the air, for free. At the very least, listening to radio over mobile networks eats into data plans and costs the listener money that they are not used to spending.
Outside of cost we need to consider radio’s importance to society as a free-to-access, reliable medium. Broadcast radio delivers to millions of people and, in times of emergency or crisis, it can be relied upon to get information out to people. In contrast, it is at exactly these times that mobile networks are most likely to become overloaded and fail to cope with demand, leaving people unable to make or receive important calls.
So how can mobile and radio work together?
Hybrid radio brings the best of both worlds, utilizing the reliability and coverage of broadcast radio with additional information and content that can be delivered over IP. The new Audi A8 takes this one step further, intelligently switching between radio and IP to provide the best experience to listeners.
This will be a big topic next month at our General Assembly in Paris, where we’ll hear from speakers on the future of radio and how we can work together with other technologies to deliver the best experience to the listener.