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DAB: The View From the Bubbling Mudbath

In defence of British digital radio

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So. Any regrets?

One, he told us, was that perhaps broadcasters should have ramped up coverage more gradually, rather than arriving with 90 per cent coverage on Day One of the relaunch in 2002. Perhaps 40 per cent coverage would have been an adequate start - and instead of spending that capital on transmission, it could have gone on marketing and promotion.

Even now, however, coverage is far from complete. Muxco received a license for Mid and West Wales last month, in which it promises to roll out "indoor coverage" to 40 per cent of the local adult population... by 2012. Won't broadband internet have overtaken this hobbling nag by then?

Piggott said GCap was committed to transmitting its streams over the net, but that it was most suitable for the "thick part of the long tail" of stations. He talked about taking advantage of new spectrum that could be used by Wimax.

More positively, there were some interesting new devices that could tap into the unused data capabilities, with the mobile networks providing an uplink.

And for low power, there's DVB-H. The French have gone their own way, with a Gallic flavour of DVB-H audio. There's no point replicating that here, thinks Nick, because it means a new infrastructure:

"Both WiMax and DVB-H have been designed to do specific things, and they'll probably do that to some degree or another. However, in both cases access to the network is predicated on a device/subscription model, and the network densities - in terms of number of sites and towers required - are very high. The infrastructure costs are far in excess of those of DAB, so DAB still looks like the right combination of economics and functionality to carry mass-market broadcast radio and associated data services.

DAB's flexibility is its greatest asset, he says:

"I would like to think that DAB is a technology that can span a very wide set of devices. DAB strengths are that it has superior cost of delivery other other forms of wireless. It's handheld, it's mobile, and battery power requirements are lower."

"At one end is the 'kitchen radio', which is a cheap, simple, low-functionality radio device - the ones that now sell around the £20 mark. Towards the other end is a fully integrated, fully connected, handheld, battery-powered media device where DAB is still adding value through a good variety of free-to-air radio channels and data services."

Piggott agrees that the data promise of DAB - which we first highlighted over seven years ago, has been neglected. Public transport is a great example where the one-to-many data stream could be used.

And don't forget the potential for using 3G as an uplink, or phones as a UI - something else we were talking about in 2000. Nick highlights TTP's nanoDAB, due in September. It's a Bluetooth headset with a built-in DAB receiver, and uses the phone as the display. If they build it, will they come? ®

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