The British Are Coming . . . to Their Senses

This post was passed along by Greg Smith, and it’s from the UK’s techworld.com site. It says, in essence, that the British government has all but admitted that DAB is a flop:

Let’s just say it out loud and stop kidding ourselves. The UK’s digital radio — DAB radio to be precise — is about as bad as new technology gets. The good news is that the coalition government could be about to admit as much.

While not a done deal, it seems the Brits are about to acknowledge the truth about their version of “HD” radio:

Instead of imposing technology on an unwilling and unconvinced population that is by and large not dissatisfied with the analogue radio system currently in use, the decision will be made by the public. That might not be a good recipe for all technologies but it looks like a good one for radio.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to sorting it out. And boy did DAB turn out to have problems on every level imaginable.

The sets were expensive and are still about double to triple the price of an equivalent analogue set. They were, and still are, slow to turn on, and being more complex, break down far more often. I have never in my life heard of someone having to replace a faulty analogue radio, but DAB sets head for the recycling centre at a quite disgraceful level. I have personally had three break down.

Then there’s battery consumption, so poor in some cases that they have to be tethered to the mains, defeating the welcome portability invented with the transistor radio half a century ago. Every time you change the batteries, the whole radio has to re-discover every frequency and favourite station. Tedious.

Sound quality can be pathetic, not helped by iffy reception (don’t believe the nonsense about error correction), tinny speakers and low bit-rates. Some of the sets are so complicated they need manuals to operate. A radio with a manual? You read that correctly.

And this is DAB, which is superior to iBiquity’s monopoly HD radio in the states. As is the case here, “The real motivation for DAB has always been the commercial sector’s desire to shove more mediocre radio programming down people’s speakers . . .”

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4 Responses

  1. “BBC chief acknowledges DAB flop”

    “BBC Trust Chairman Michael Lyons has called for a review of its radio strategy — acknowledging the failure of DAB and the Corporation’s neglect of internet radio. It’s a call for a new direction that comes from the top — but some of his executives might need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.”

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/06/bbc_radio_review/

    At least Michael Lyons admitted DAB’s failure and realizes that the BBC needs to head in the direction of IP delivered radio services.

  2. The Brits claim to have sold 10 million DAB radios, but again like HD Radio, I would suspect a very high return rate with fudged numbers of units sold. If one compares the claims of iBiquity with 2.5 million total receivers sold (funny how that number magically doubled in the past six months) to DAB, broken down by number of years, HD Radio has been even more of a massive failure. In the case of HD Radio, manufacturers put together subpar products, and pass the licensing costs onto consumers. Just to think that DAB is a failure, and the Brits don’t even have Satellite Radio as an excuse.

    Digital radio has been a failure in every country implemented, yet they persist on force-feeding this inferior technology. It will take years of persistence to remove the IBOC malignant tumor from our airways.

  3. Hal Kneller, the Market Development Manager for Nautel, is formerly Director of International Broadcast Business Development at iBiquity Digital Corp. As his LinkedIn page notes, he recently has been elected to the Executive board and the Service board of DRM Consortium.

  4. I think DAB and DAB+ should be clarified. The Brits are using DAB which is NOT superior in every way to HD Radio technology. DAB uses the original MPEG codec from the early 1990s which with bitrates below 128 kB/s has complaints of poor sound quality and that FM sounds better. The newer system, DAB+ uses a current codec which is quite similar in efficiency and quality to HD Radio codec at comparable bitrates.

    The Brits decided they needed to get more channels up on the multiplex and as a result quality suffered. With DAB + (as deployed in Australia) 24-30 channels can be transmitted per multiplex with bit rates as low as 48 kb/s per channel with quality superior to FM. In the UK, the problem is – there is an installed base of millions of receivers which will not receive DAB+, so it amounts to starting all over again.

    DAB and DAB+ are the same thing, only the codec is different. It does operate on another frequency band, whereas HD Radio is contained within the FM broadcast band, so the system is totally different from HD Radio broadcasting. In theory, DAB+ could exceed the sound quality of FM (or even a CD) if they decided to apply enough bits to a given channel. HD Radio broadcasting is limited to 96 kb/s maximum assuming they use only one channel whereas DAB+, using a similar codec can assign far more bits for better quality, but as a practical matter, would not do so in order to get more channels, instead.

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