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Ofcom Announces Progress for Small-Scale DAB

34 applications received in fifth round of licensing for local multiplexes

Small-scale DAB transmitters on air across the United Kingdom as of July 5, 2023. (Google Earth map by Radio World using data from Ofcom’s small-scale DAB coverage maps.)

Small-scale DAB continues its growth as a valuable part of the British media scene. As of July 5, 2023, small-scale DAB multiplexes are on the air in 28 license areas across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, broadcasting 213 different stations.

British media regulator Ofcom has concluded five rounds of advertising small-scale DAB multiplex licenses, and 86 licenses issued for the first four rounds. Not all of the awarded licenses have successfully launched; in most cases, awardees have 18 months to launch a service or their award may be revoked.

In mid-July, Ofcom provided an update on its fifth round of small-scale DAB licensing, covering the South East of England, including London. The call for applications was released in March and 34 applications were received. Six of the advertised areas received no applications.

Applications were also received for two areas where licenses had been revoked and a third area previously advertised where no license was awarded.

Ofcom expects to announce the license awards in early 2024.

Along with the fifth-round applications, Ofcom announced license awards for two more fourth-round applications in Scotland.

[Read more digital radio news from Radio World here.]

In 2018, Ofcom sought input from potential operators about where they were interested in launching small-scale DAB services. That process identified 226 markets and, as of July 2023, licenses have been advertised for 129 of those areas. However, when licenses are advertised only about 80% of the areas on offer receive applications.

To prioritize its sixth round of licensing, Ofcom in spring 2023 sought additional feedback about which unlicensed areas were of greatest interest to potential small-scale DAB operators. Of the 97 areas in question, 32 received no expressions of interest, notably in Cornwall, Northern Ireland, and parts of the Scottish Highlands.

Of the remaining 65 areas, respondents were interested in a mix of multiplex-only, program service-only, and combined multiplex and program service licenses. Ofcom noted that interest was also expressed in a few areas not identified in 2018, including the Orkney Islands and other parts of the Scottish Highlands. Suggestions about redefining or merging license areas were also received.

Ofcom stated that the feedback received will shape the sixth round of small-scale DAB license offers in autumn 2023.

Like other DAB services, small-scale DAB uses a multiplex transmission system to broadcast multiple stations. In the United Kingdom, it has proved an effective, low-cost way for local commercial, community, and specialist radio stations to broadcast digitally. Both the multiplex operator and the program services are licensed by Ofcom.

In May 2023, Ofcom updated the Digital Radio Technical Code governing the proper operation of DAB transmitters. It also updated the accompanying technical guidance for multiplex license holders and applicants to help ensure their transmitter systems are compliant.