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DAB Plans Affect Euro Automakers

Automotive workshop focuses on end user, DAB updates

The panel featured, from left, Sebastian Kett of ARD, Linsday Cornell of the BBC, Steve Tomlinson of IMDA, Ralf Hinz of Daimler and Carsten Friedrich of Frontier Silicon. Automakers in the U.S. are focusing on the connected dashboard as a way to lure youth, especially, into buying cars, and HD Radio increasingly is a part of large-screen enfotainment screens in the dash.

Meanwhile, in Europe, automakers are getting schooled in the latest updates to DAB digital radio.

Digital Radio U.K. Director Laurence Harrison says in 2013, his country’s government will announce a switchover date from analog to digital.

“We launched a conversion working group to make recommendations on how to fully convert all the vehicles to digital at the point of a switchover,” said Harrison. “This working group will develop annual conversion targets as well as a viable plan to meet them, identify the main barriers to conversion, draft and manage a vehicle conversion risk register, identifying the appropriate mitigations,” he said.

Harrison spoke at the 14th WorldDMB European Automotive Workshop in Berlin. The aim was to give car manufacturers an overview of the state of digital radio and perspectives in each market, to permit the digital radio industry to network with the car industry and for the industries jointly to discuss options for new services to air.

The U.K. news was big; this is the first time a European country with a population of more than 60 million has taken such a step. Previously Norway had announced it would switch off FM in 2017, and Denmark did the same, fixing its deadline for 2019. Both Scandinavian countries have a population of approximately 5 million.

U.K. digital radio listening is the largest in Europe, and Harrison shared the country’s experience with attendees.

“Motorists who pioneered the digital radio age are highly satisfied with digital radio in their car and would recommend to others,” he said. “Most of them listen only to DAB digital radio or listen to it more than to FM/AM radio. Reception and coverage have improved, and most people with a DAB radio in their car say they get consistently good reception.”

Harrison then directed his discussion toward the car manufacturers: “In-car DAB digital radios are perceived to increase the value of a vehicle. And half of in-car DAB digital radio owners in the U.K. said they would be disappointed if digital radio wasn’t available for their next car,” he said. “Digital radio as a selling point is a disruptively new point of view.”

German-based car manufacturers had the highest automotive attendees at the DAB event with registered delegates coming from the VW Group, Daimler (Mercedes), Ford and Hyundai Motor Europe, headquartered in Germany. Attendees also came from French manufacturer Renault.

Today, radio broadcasters are seeing many of the major car manufacturers offer DAB/DAB+ as standard in their newer models sold in Europe, and as an option in the majority of the rest of their models, in key markets.

Staying attentive

Frontier Silicon automotive marketing manager Carsten Friedrich focused on digital aftermarket radios for existing cars: “For almost every car, there is a reasonable offer already available, and more will come soon. In Germany, they will need nearly 12 years to replace all existing, non-digital, car radios merely relying on standard vehicle turnover,” said Friedrich.

“We must tell consumers that it is possible to integrate new digital radios in existing cars; the cost and efforts required for such upgrades is reasonable,” he said, especially when dealing with do-it-yourself adaptors or window antennas.

Peter Fuhrmann, chief executive officer of the European Mobile Media Association, made up of luxury car audio installers, explained that there are still some issues to overcome for the aftermarket.

“Window antennas and self-fit adaptors with their cables floating on the dashboard simply don’t fit German consumers,” said Fuhrmann. “They ask for a fully integrated solution, but just replacing the factory-fitted antenna with a Band III-capable one would raise the overall cost” up to roughly $800. Even so, he explained that EMMA was open to promote digital radio but that customers need to be aware of installation costs.

“Digital broadcast is key to radio´s future,” said Mats Åkerlund, chairman of the EBU New Radio Group. “EBU believes in a future for radio that is digital, multiplatform and hybrid.” Internet radio, he added, complements broadcast radio, and does not “supersede it.”

“Hybrid radio” was mentioned frequently during the conference as a key factor in promoting digital radio in-car. A hybrid radio receiver receives a broadcast signal; the device is also connected to the Internet and finds the Internet address of the streamed service corresponding to a tuned station. RadioDNS and the Internet Media Device Alliance recently collaborated on Hybrid Radio electronic program guide, a technology for receivers to display metadata for DAB, DRM, HD Radio or Radioplayer.

However attendees cautioned no matter what technology the receiver uses: consumers “don’t care about technicalities and standards, they just want it to work” was one of the conclusions.

During the event, almost every panelist focused on users: “It’s all about the user experience. Get the user experience right, and you win,” said Roger Lanctot, associate director of U.S. consultancy firm Strategy Analytics.

Davide Moro reports on the industry for Radio World from Bergamo, Italy.