Feeds

DAB: The View From the Bubbling Mudbath

In defence of British digital radio

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

These are troubled times for DAB, with the UK's go-it-alone strategy getting a mauling from analysts, the press and from Reg readers. But it's only fair to get the view from inside the industry. Nick Piggott is chief techie at GCap, with a decade's experience in developing and implementing the technology.

GCap is the UK's biggest radio broadcaster, operating Classic FM, Xfm national stations and over 40 local stations. It recently grabbed the headlines when it announced it was cutting back on its DAB broadcasting, although it apparently shelved plans to abandon DAB altogether.

Nick's argument is that DAB is here, the broadcasters are using it, and there's nothing else that can do the job as well for low-power, low-cost reception - particularly when mobile.

Of course, there's not much GCap can do about the regulatory decisions that have shaped the market, and remember that the buck stops with Ofcom. Which then throws the buck out of the window. (Be careful when strolling along Southwark Bridge Road.)

Piggott constantly stressed that while much of the industry is sympathetic to listeners' frustrations, we're at the tail end of the first ten years of implementation. The codecs were licensed for ten years, and the back-end equipment was bought with ten or more years in mind.

Bubbling mud

So first off, DAB+. With Germany ending its ten year "experiment" with DAB in favour of DAB+ next year - when will we get the superior tech?

Nick views DAB+ as a beautiful and elegant implementation that should delight any engineer.

"The codecs we use today were state of the art in 1999. The latest codecs are astounding. These have been added to DAB+ so bubbling mud should no longer be a problem. Bubbling mud kicks in when the error rate is 1 in 1000; 1 in 100 means the bubbling is unlistenable."

But he says that a DAB+ move wouldn't necessarily translate into a gain for broadcasters:

"If all the radio stations adopted DAB+ and took the opportunity to reduce their capacity, it wouldn't save them any money. The cost of the infrastructure doesn't change, as they have the same transmitters, links, and headend costs, and the proportion used by each operator is the same. So the price stays the same - but 66 per cent of the multiplex goes empty."

"If new stations come on-air in the free space, then obviously the cost gets divided across a larger number of stations, and everyone would pay a little less, but in most cases (outside of London) the multiplexes already have a bit of free space, so it's unlikely there would suddenly be new companies entering the radio business and paying for capacity."

What vexes people is that DAB radios being bought today in the UK are not future proof, although the sets arriving this year for the (larger) German market are. Countries that came late to digital radio can take advantage of the latest technology.

Nick said there were massive inventory issues for the retail channel. If DAB+ was announced today, then nobody would buy a DAB radio.

I replied that since that day was inevitable, postponing it would merely add to the sense of the public having been swindled.

But that's something only Ofcom can decide. And the longer it stalls, the longer the problem festers.

What about audio quality, we wondered?

"We can have high quality, eg Classic FM, but through satellite and cable. It's not for a kitchen top radio. But these sets aren't capable of Hi-fi quality anyway."

The proposition behind DAB was never about better sound quality, he stresses, but choice, program data and the extra services.

We agreed that the data potential of digital radio had barely been tapped, he saw a lot of opportunity for new services, with public transport information a no-brainer.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Doctor Who's Flatline: Cool monsters, yes, but utterly limp subplots
We know what the Doctor does, stop going on about it already
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
'Cowardly, venomous trolls' threatened with TWO-YEAR sentences for menacing posts
UK government: 'Taking a stand against a baying cyber-mob'
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Arab States make play for greater government control of the internet
Nerds told to get lost in last-minute power grab bid at UN meeting
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.