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Ofcom Prepares for Small-Scale DAB Rollout

Smaller stations to gain access to digital radio

LONDON — Ofcom, has launched a consultation regarding the future of localized DAB broadcasting. The broadcasting regulator plans to rollout the new tier of digital radio across the United Kingdom starting next year.

Engineers check the performance of small-scale DAB transmissions.

Experimental small-scale DAB transmissions in the country began as far back as 2012, with formalized public trials beginning in the summer of 2015. These trials, in 10 different locations, were originally intended to last only a matter of months, but have, in fact, continue to the present day.

Over recent months, the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) has been working to get changes in legislation through Parliament. These would allow the licensing of localized DAB multiplexes across the country on a long-term basis.

LEGISLATION

The draft legislation was put before Parliament last month and is currently awaiting final approval, but Ofcom is consulting now to minimize the time delay before it can begin licensing new multiplexes, once it has the legal powers to do so.

[Read: DAB+ Deployment in France Progresses]   

The consultation covers a number of areas, but at its core, it is designed to help shape Ofcom’s approach to spectrum planning and the licensing of new localized DAB services. In addition, the consultation considers the impact its plans might have on the further development of the existing tier of larger “local” DAB multiplexes.

A spectrum analyser shows DAB multiplex spectral occupancy.

Another important outcome of the current trials has been the take up of DAB by community services and specialist commercial stations. These have previously been largely excluded from the platform on grounds of cost and scale of available coverage.

Historically, U.K. “local” multiplexes have typically tended to cover countywide areas rather than individual towns and cities.  The consultation sets out proposals for the introduction of a new form of Community Digital Sound Programming License (C-DSP).

Such new licenses would permit non-profit-maximizing broadcasters to operate on DAB under dedicated conditions and provide them with the option of accessing DAB capacity reserved on the new multiplexes, for use by only by licensed Community Radio operators.

Technically, a major success of the trials has been the launch of a large number of DAB+ services.  Indeed, some of the multiplexes involved now operate using DAB+ only. Recognizing the enhanced spectral efficiency of the more recent transmission standard, Ofcom’s consultation currently suggests that the new tier of localized DAB multiplexes should not be permitted to transmit using the older original ‘plain vanilla’ DAB standard, a sign perhaps of just how quickly the world of DAB broadcasting in the U.K. is now changing.

The Ofcom Consultation closes on Friday Oct. 4.

Dr. Lawrie Hallett writes for Radio World from Norwich in Norfolk, where he is Technical Director of DAB Multiplex operator, Future Digital Norfolk Limited.

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