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DABetamax shop boosters 'could break the law'

Consumer woes ahead for radio relays?

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The DAB lobby's latest attempt to make digital radios more attractive could fall foul of consumer legislation. Ofcom this week gave regulatory approval to in-store relays which boost the signal of digital radios in outlets like Currys and John Lewis - two chains who have been trialling the boosters over the past year.

The problem? The Consumer Act says that goods you take home "must correspond to the [shop] sample in quality”. This could interest m'learned friends. While the sample radio in the store is picking up a signal from a few feet away, via a relay, the set at home will most likely be receiving a signal from miles away. The quality of reception won't be the same.

Radio analyst Grant Goddard flagged the potential problem on his blog this week. As he notes, to gain "correspondent" quality you'd have to have a DAB relay in your home - and Ofcom won't grant you a licence for that particular kind of erection.

(You don't need a home relay licence to enjoy Internet Radio over Wi-Fi, of course, but we'll keep schtum on that - we don't want to give OFCOM any ideas.)

The DAB marketing group DRDB (the Digital Radio Development Bureau) says in-store relays are needed because some stores are underground and in large steel-framed structures.

"Some stores have reported as much as 30 per cent uplift in sales simply by ensuring all DAB radios enjoy clear, uninterrupted reception," the DRDB noted this week.

It makes you wonder how they ever sold an FM radio out of one of these Faraday cages - but let's press on.

As Goddard points out, "this would not be the first time that the marketing of DAB radio in the UK has come under legal scrutiny for potentially misleading consumers". Four years ago the Advertising Standards Authority slapped the DAB industry for falsely claiming that it had "distortion free" and "crystal clear" sound. Goddard also goes into some detail explaining how the multiplex remains underpowered - something the DABetamax working group acknowledged before Christmas.

Read more on Goddard's blog here.

Just one question remains - who pays for these relays? The stores, the device manufacturers, the multiplex operators... or us? Answers on a postcard, please.®

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