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DAB radio titleDAB radio, the next step into the age of broadcasting and a pillow of the government’s plan to finally turn UK media digital, but how close are we actually to getting DAB nationwide and when will we finally see the back of our beloved FM.

Whilst many organisations are against the great switch off and the end of an era, others in the industry believe, as a nation, we’re actually quite a bit behind with our plans.

Norway pull the plugnorway dab

Earlier in the month Norway’s Minister of Culture announced that his country would be the first nation to pull the plug on FM radio. The big switch-off will take place in 2017, allowing the Scandinavians two years to complete a transition to digital radio.

Norwegians currently have 22 national channels broadcasting on DAB, compared to FM radio’s five. Uptake of the digital service is also believed to be at around 56%, a figure expected to escalate quickly over the coming years.

 

What is DAB?dab logo

So what does DAB actually mean and why is it the next step? DAB stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting and is a way of broadcasting radio digitally, through the FM (or AM) frequency range.

Digital signals take up far less space on the airwaves, giving you, the listener more station choice and freeing up some valuable RF space.  

The digital radio signal also transmits data alongside the audio, enabling text and images to be broadcast with your music or news. This means it’s possible to transmit information with a song, like the title of a track, album, a picture or some lyrics. The same can be done for basic news stories that could scroll across the bottom of your radio screen.

 

DAB and the UK

Since the early 00’s, the UK government has planned for an eventual switchover to digital radio. Their hopes were to capitalise on the potential room digital has to offer and free up some of the valuable frequency space radio currently resides on.

As with digital TV, where the plan worked well through a rapidly developing market, DAB has dragged its heels a little.

Many people may remember the, now seemingly rather ambitious, plans to have DAB nationwide by 2013, with FM transmitters turned off by 2015. Well, unless the rollout comes pretty soon, it looks like we might miss that date.

 

Missed deadlinesradio rf

In July 2010, the government launched a ‘Digital Radio Action Plan’ to ensure that if, or when, the market is ready for a switchover, the UK radio industry and its consumers would be fit for a digital age.

It was planned that the digital radio switchover would take place no less than two years after the government’s criteria were met. Amongst other things the three main criteria are:

National digital radio coverage to match FM coverage

Local digital radio to reach 90% of the population

50% of radio listening to be on digital radio platforms

In late 2013 Ed Vaizey, the communications minister, announced that the government would scrap the deadline for an FM switch off. After first moving the deadline from 2015 to 2018, the government could not meet enough of the criteria set out to green light the switchover.

However, the plans angered commercial radio groups like Bauer Media and Global Radio, who urged the Government to set a date and force more listeners to migrate. Many national commercial radio stations are keen to have a date in place so they can plan for a migration and decommissioning of their analogue equipment.

At the time of the proposed change, digital radio only accounted for around 35% of listeners in the UK.

 

Analogue switch off

Unlike digital TV, which bit the dust in 2012, analogue radio would not be completely wiped from the airways. FM will still be used for ‘ultra-local’ and community radio stations, however national stations like Radio 1 and Capital will migrate over to the digital platform.

 

Why switch-off FM?dab fm tuning

The ‘FM spectrum’ is a rather crowded workplace, radio stations battle for less and less costly airwaves in bid to grad your ears.

Digital platforms like DAB and Internet Radio provides far more space for more stations. It’s good for the consumer, who gets a greater choice of stations and great for the broadcast industry who have more means to advertise.

 

Against the switch

Unlike digital TV the switch to DAB radio is not quite as simple and sensible as it sounds (no pun intended).

First of all, the government can’t make a whacking great profit by selling off the old radio spectrum (like it did for analogue TV) as the current plan is to keep using FM for ‘local radio broadcasting’.

Second, the switch to digital TV brought a tide of fun and exciting new concepts like HD, 3D, 4K etc… however DAB doesn’t really even get you ‘HD radio’. The sound quality from DAB is good in many areas however many stations on the UK’s current DAB structure are actually worse than FM (this could and would be theoretically upgraded in time.

Third. Are radio stations actually that popular, do we need a raft of new services? With the introduction of music on demand (Spotify/Pandora etc), podcasts and internet stations, will traditional radio still hold its popularity with the masses when we have so many more options?

 

 

What’s holding DAB back?

According to Ofcom almost half of UK adults (48.5%) say they now own a DAB digital radio device, however only 36.3% of all radio listening is actually done on a digital radio.

Although often better quality in terms of service, DAB reception is sometimes patchy across areas of country. If you’re listening to digital stations and reception is poor, the sound simply cuts out, which is pretty annoying.

For the problem to disappear, more transmitters need to be installed before a switchover date is finalised.

With initial costs of DAB higher than an FM equivalent, digital radio has suffered from simple lack of integration in many devices. Initial predictions in the late 00’s was that DAB would be integrated into cars, phones/tablets and personal devices by the 2015 cut off. Instead, many manufacturers have stuck with FM or skipped onto to internet radio.

DAB risks falling into the right tech wrong time area, starting down the barrel of its own extinction.

For what its worth, most people seems to think its a great idea, but has simply lacked execution.

 

What do you think, will DAB ever actually become the broadcast standard or will a resilient FM and new technology push DAB into the ‘friend zone’ of tech?

rf freq title

86 COMMENTS

  1. In addition to providing an inferior quality of sound (lots of dead sound) I’ve found DAB radios use up too much juice, making them unsuitable for when I go travelling or camping.

  2. Nearly Everyone, seem to forget or ignore the obvious. We are used to simply good service.
    In fact the COST of Receiving is very important and is seen as such -once we get away from using the techniques that resulted from developments from the earliest days that automatically incorporated these cost/simplicity factors in developments.
    As an example, simple am Longwave may be expensive for transmitters, but its reach is phenomenal – for interested listeners. If the (?) reliable alternative were to be digital services, then there is an automatic hike in receiving costs to levels where suddenly these they dominate, in that market area where traditionally they have been ignorable.
    Certainly there are situations where the power gobbling of pre-existing kit – desktop PCs, Cars .. – make such a hike still negligible, but it is the margin that is vital; the walk-around, bedside, the additionals that keep us informed wherever we are: do we HaveTo, to always use computer equipment — all that KIT, just to listen to the news? Going FM is itself ‘ a bit far ‘ maybe…
    Making unnecessarily Smart Devices de-rigour, turns everywhere into the DarkContinent, not a light space -of my optimistic youth.

  3. DAB is a total mess in this country. Most stations broadcast in mono (yes, you heard it, mono!). At least FM is almost universally broadcast in stereo. The bandwidth used is only just better than FM quality. And reception is pretty flakey, certainly around where I live – and because it’s digital, you don’t just get a bit of interference, it can just cut out entirely, or sound like you’re playing music underwater!

    For something to take off, it has to be better than the alternatives, and with streaming being so popular now, it’s hard to see a niche for DAB at all.

  4. The real issue with DAB is the sound quality, the reduced bit rate employed in order to cram as many channels into a DAB channel has badly degraded the audio quality. DAB – Diabolical Audio Broadcasting.

    All of the changes in television might brought consumer benefits. Improvements in picture definition 405 to 625 lines and now HD, Black and white to colour. mono to stereo and improved sound quality (nicam stereo had much better sound quality than DAB) plus useful extras such as teletext. People were eager to purchase a new TV because there was a real consumer benefit.
    DAB has already become a dated technology with DAB+ being favoured on the continent. Transmitter coverage is still a problem meaning some areas are totally unserved – so not much use when driving . Digital signals while robust tend to drop out completely or garble when signal levels are borderline – with FM you could still listen to a weak signal albeit in mono or at worst with a degree of hiss or distortion.

    FM recievers are cheap, less power hungry than their complex DAB rivals and judging by the number of faulty DAB recievers I have come across more reliable. Many households already own several FM radios – why would anyone want to buy a DAB radio? More choice is the Governments/Ofcon’s answer. Well that may be true especially if you turn off the FM transmitters. Regarding the number of digital adopters I can listen to streaming radio on my PC but not in the garden as my PC is not portable.

    Radio is for listening – Audio quality, portability, area coverage and power consumption are key issues that seem to be ignored by those who wish to impose an inferior service upon us.

  5. I’ve had a DAB portable radio for about 3 years now. It’s ok is about the best I can say. I really want to say that it is super and far better than old fashioned FM reception. I can’t because a lot of the time it is simply rubbish and that’s pretty much any station I happen to enjoy listening to (local radio and national). However, for me the biggest annoyance is that DAB receivers are incredibly power hungry. I like to listen to a radio station in the morning while I have a shower and get dressed. Consequently most of my listening is in the bathroom. Ok, so no mains lead of course due to the electricity and water not mixing too well hazard… I find I need to replace a set of 4 cells (batteries) roughly every 3 days!!!! Yet I am only listening for about 20 minutes at a time and at a low volume at that. To me that is a disgusting amount of energy to have to use. Yes, I could use rechargeables but even then I’d be permanently looking at having a set on charge. Most of the time I end up using my old FM receiver instead these days.

  6. DAB – WRONG technology, WRONG time – the original DAB went for the MP2 codec and fixed frame size and “unequal error protection” – given the comparative inefficiency of the old error protection, more was given to headers to retain sync.

    The gross inefficiency of the MP2 codec, compared to even todays bottom anchor of MP3, means that DAB does not make good use of the available bitrate.
    DAB+ moves it up a gear with the AAC codec, far more efficient, but moving to DAB+ would make non-upgradable DAB equipment obsolete.
    The ridiculous thing was, by the time that DAB moved out of testing, it should have been obvious that by the time it hit production, the technology would advance to handle a more advanced codec that the lamentable MP2 – which other than for DAB, died with VideoCD – the only other thing that made significant use of MP2.

    So, DAB is inferior to FM – in coverage, quality, price of kit and battery consumption. Most mobile phones that have radio, have FM not DAB – and while internet radio may be an option, you’d better have a good data plan!

    DAB is still a niche technology, and will probably never be more than that!
    If you want quality, the quality on the Freeview TV radio channels is better than on DAB.

  7. We’re stuck with a very poor codec (unlike many countries that waited and used a much better one) which means the quality is poor. DAB reception in cars isn’t great, and FM radios have much better battery life.

    When designing a replacement technology it’s vital to ensure the replacement is actually better, otherwise people will stay with the old technology.

    Time to scrap DAB?

  8. I live in the UK close to France and my DAB radio can only get a few stations upstairs and none reliably downstairs. Don’t think this is my radio so if FM went tomorrow we’d have to give up radio. Also there are so many cars with non DAB radios we need a lot more time.

  9. DAB should be allowed to die an unmourned death. The technology is obsolete. Norway is switching. or wants to, but to the more efficient DAB2 standard.

    DAB brings nothing of real benefit to the end user. The quality is poor – FM is much cleaner – and to the dedicated radio listener the switchover cost will be high. I have a radio in almost every room in the house and I have no idea if it will even be possible to upgrade the radio in my car.

    If I want digital audio I will get it via my computer and pipe it around the house by ethernet/wifi. Or listen to my satellite TV. I can really do without a mass of new digital broadcasters pushing out 10 minutes of adverts for every 2 minutes of content but then I have my doubts that there is actually any real demand from providers. DAB is a concept who’se time went before it arrived – a (non)solution to a non-problem.

  10. The digital stuff over the air isn’t as strong or stable as Anolog . If I use power tools in my workshop the DAB radio signal get wiped , same as portable radios when walking around. Like the TV I get in to a film, next minute I’m looking at a jigsaw puzzle, and bad signal logo pops up:(( This stuff is made for PC and broadband. Not the airway! All I seem to do is spend a lot of money for a perfect signal.

  11. As the article itself says, many more people have access to DAB devices at home but DAB radios for cars are still significantly more expensive than FM ones.
    The UK version of DAB does not work in many other countries,m who have adopted more advanced version such as DAB+. This means that if you travel abroad you won’t necessarily be able to receive anything.

  12. When I’m alone in the house I don’t need to carry FM radios round – I can can just turn them all on (there’s almost one in every room, including a wind-up in the bathroom) and listen to whichever one is near me.
    Can’t do it with any digital medium, because the time taken to process the signal varies between each set, so the sounds are all slightly out of sync – and all very badly out of sync with FM; if I miss a comment on FM Radio 4 I can turn on the DAB set and probably catch it.
    We’ve had to go to satellite television because we can’t get the reception from FreeServe, and the radio channels are even more out of sync!

  13. For the first time in history we are replacing an excellent system (VHF-FM) with one that is technically inferior in every way, the main drawback being the absolutely dreadful audio quality.
    Not only that, the broadcasters have admitted that there will be areas of the country which will NEVER get DAB coverage.
    We have the added disadvantage in the UK that the broadcasters (hello BBC) have chosen the WRONG DAB system, which is incompatible with the system chosen for the rest of Europe (DAB+).
    I notice that the DAB receiver in my car is regularly switching to FM when the DAB coverage drops out.
    I will never deliberately buy a digital radio unless I am compelled to by the withdrawal of the excellent FM service.
    DAB in the UK is on a road to nowhere and it’s high time the plans were either revised radically, or scrapped completely.

  14. This thread is going to look rather antiquated in years to come. Let me sum up the next ten years. DAB died, Digital TV has a lot of shopping channels and the news. Everyone else is using the internet whether it be fiber, 5G or some wifi mesh. The end.

  15. Around London DAB is great in the car it’s all about coverage like the mobile phone!

  16. DAB – no reception most places in low areas of Devon, clarity not as clear as FM, white noise on DAB non on FM.
    FM – more reliable in Devon, clear to hear.

    As always, Prep & Planning, Prep is key – the Government appears to be lacking in bringing in on all radios the ability to include DAB. Yes we need more mast’s, organizations like Dartmoor Parks etc. stop this being done.

    I see no reason why Church Towers, tall building’s cant be utilized, the mast can be disguised to look like flag poles ,there are various disguises can be incorporated.

    Personally I prefer FM as it is a proved product we have now, DAB seems a good idea but cost is prohibitive.

    Think wisely more monies should be spent on providing complete full coverage for the mobile phone network

  17. Dab just sounds awful. Tune to Dab for 10 minutes an then go back to real radio and the Audio is just better. We are being sold a pup here. Digital Audio on Television and radio is rubbish. Always digital crackle in the background. Why go from good quality FM to digital. The reason is money. Many more stations on the same bandwidth. We did have 4 good Television stations now we have 200 crap ones, radio will go the same way. It,s all about how much extra money can be made and not the quality of service. Bag it and bin it.

  18. People spend a lot of time comparing DAB with FM which for me is irrelevant. I listen to a lot of MW radio where reception and quality of sound are both poor. DAB is brilliant by comparison! DAB isn’t ready to replace FM yet but as an additional service that provides many extra stations I am a fan.

  19. I don’t think we should go completely digital,I have a dab radio which is useless without a signal,this is the same with free view TV. I live in a part of the country with hardly any reception whatsoever. We the people have been conned into changing to digital TV unless you have the funds to go to all the big companies who charge the earth for their services you are back to the older days of limited TV and consequently would be the same with DAB radio.

  20. I agree with last comment, main disadvantage DAB is so heavy on batterys. Even rechargeables not ideal. OK for home but not portable.

  21. I hadn’t realised – until now – that “digital TV bit the dust” back in 2012. That explains so much . . .

  22. I have 2 DAB radios in the house and find them to be OK but power hungry when using batteries. Sound is no better than FM and for mobile use in cars etc reception is too patchy to be reliable. Lets keep FM which is just fine across the board.
    I can understand the governments idea of flogging off bandwidth to commercial entities. But as for the idea of offering a wider range of stations I think this is a non starter. Who needs an ever expanding plethora of stations offering more of the same.

  23. The difference between implementation in various countries is not just between DAB & DAB+, but also the way the signal has been shoehorned into the available frequencies.

    In the UK DAB is on Band 3 (174 – 240MHz), elsewhere Band L is used (1 – 2 GHz). However, in the US they use a completely different model where the DAB signal is broadcast alongside the existing FM (or even AM) signal.

    Whereas a traditional FM radio would work (pretty much) anywhere in the world, the same cannot be said for DAB. This is a major stumbling block.

    If I take my mobile phone (with FM capability) I can be pretty much assured of FM reception (of local stations) anywhere in the world. If I had a mobile phone with UK DAB, what then?

  24. What’s the point of introducing a standard that is not a world standard? When FM is switched off you will have a dab radio in your car, which will not be able to receive dab+ when you go on the continent. Stupid!

  25. I bought a medium sized Roberts dab radio which achieves a decent amount of battery life out four large d size batteries the sound quality is good on both dab and fm through the radios own speaker though plug in a decent set of headphones and you get a huge improvement in sound quality when listening on Fm but on dab its disappointing like listening to mp3 at its highest compression rate. I think that the dab standards for sound quality are poor and inferior to fm. So much for the BBC telling us lies about cd sound quality unless they meant you got the same sound quality as you get out of compression mp3 so much that you can fit 20 hours of mono music onto one cd Lol

  26. FACTCHECK

    I know it’s only an eBuyer blog but can we please have some basic facts without the usual spin?

    FACT 1

    “only 36.3% of all radio listening is actually done on a digital radio.”

    No. RAJAR report[1] that in Q1 2015 39.6% of listening was on a digital platform. But only 25.9% was DAB. The difference included 4.8% digital TV – the digital radio service the BBC et al spent pennies advertising compared with the many pounds spent pushing DAB. And which is often better quality than DAB.

    FACT 2

    “Earlier in the month Norway’s Minister of Culture announced that his country would be the first nation to pull the plug on FM radio”

    Yes. And then again, no. The Minister announced the proposal to turn of national FM. But Parliament has yet to pass the law. There is opposition and – guess what? – it reads much like the UK’s[2].

    But as others have intimated, don’t expect the BBC to admit DAB was an expensive mistake. This is after all the BBC which never admits to getting wrong anything big.

    [1] http://www.rajar.co.uk/content.php?page=listen_market_trends
    [2] eg http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2015/04/23/breaking-local-norwegian-stations-dont-want-fm-radio-to-be-killed

  27. I am someone who loves the choice my DAB radios bring me. Stations like Absolute 80s and Planet Rock. I suppose I am lucky as I am in a area that allows me to receive these channels without dropout. I dont listen to FM anymore and when I wish to listen to a local station its using DAB.

  28. Many newer cars have a unit that is a Sat Nav, music player and FM radio. To replace the unit with a DAB version would be very expensive. There would be huge outcry if the analogue signal was switched off. Why replace a technology that works well with something that does not work as well and consumes more power?

  29. I bought a DAB Radio a few years ago. What a disappointment! I’m well turned 70 and my favourite station is Radio 2. I can’t receive it on DAB. So much for progress. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Maybe Paul is right, DEAD AND BURIED.

  30. My understanding is that the RDS system that is used to switch from a main station to a local station for traffic information is lost with DAB.
    I mostly listen to radio when travelling and particularly like the local radio audio traffic announcements which are helpful in avoiding traffic jams.
    Or have I got this wrong?

  31. It’s still too expensive after all these years and the so-called digital quality is a let down. That’s why it’s not catching on.

  32. One thing is that most cars that are older than 2 years old, which accounts for thousands, don’t have DAB radio and the cost to swap them would be very expensive.

    Especially, when people have built in radio/Sat Nav

  33. Try and receive DAB in a metal framed building such as a block of flats or a hotel—–you get zilch ! Until this reception problem is sorted DAB is a dead duck.

  34. I used to love listening to radio, when I started work in 1978 the radio was on all day and it entertained and brought to our attention acts and songs we would have not heard if it was not on. We went from Radio 2, to Viking radio to Hallam fm, then Radio 1, then back to radio 2. Then came the law that unless workplaces paid a fee, playing radio to their employees was banned, needless to say the cost of the licence was too expensive for small business to absorb. So for years now the workplace is free from music and chat, which in my opinion must be hurting the music industry more than helping it as there is a vast chunk of the population now not hearing new acts which probably means they are spending less on downloads or Cd’s

  35. The report includes the following “Many national commercial radio stations are keen to have a date in place so they can plan for a migration and decommissioning of their analogue equipment.”

    I think that the government should bow to the pressure from these broadcasters and groups such as Bauer and Global, and switch off FM by mid 2016. I would like to know where these broadcasters will get their revenues when they realise they have switched to DAB but the country hasn’t?

    Without the infrastructure, reliable reception and reasonable prices, I’m afraid DAB is a non-starter. I live in Lancashire and I have a Pure One DAB/FM radio. It does not work indoors at all. It does work outdoors, but only on FM. DAB cuts out as soon as I switch to DAB and I get “Station Not Found” errors on all DAB presets and scans. I have used this radio in London and have found it to be excellent in most areas.

    DAB does not work today, and I cannot see the government paying for the infrastructure to be put in place. The broadcasters will DEFINITELY NOT Pay for the equipment, so I guess FM stays and Bauer and Global can keep on whingeing.

  36. Why bother with dab when you can access radios on apps via internet, which can be done through your phone. As others say it’s outdated and perhaps the main channels should use it and local offerings use the dab?

  37. I have had DAB for several years now, and although the sound quality was fair enough to start with, it has been degraded time and time again until it is now absolutely attrocious. I’d rather listen to AM on medium wave than most of the DAB channels I favour. Many of them sound worse than a tape being played with the Dolby switch in the wrong position (other noise reduction systems are available), the treble set to max, and the bass set to min. Not only that, but the radio stations seem to play fast and loose with speeds and pitches. The upshot is that the records they play sound nothing like the originals.
    The rest has all been said on here. I would just add that I remember a time when Radio Luxembourg complete with interference, multi-path distortion, and really bad fading, was a joy to listen to compared to most of todays’ DAB transmissions. Ok, except for the advertising… In those days engineers used to strive for quality, nowadays managers strive for profits and the pro-DAB MPs know nothing.

  38. My mother, always an early adopter of tech, has tried to use DAB since it began: her biggest complaint has been that no matter how much you spend on the equipment, it fails within the first year and every replacement is expensive, compared with fm gear it’s a huge rip-off.
    My own experience has been that I don’t have the patience to mess about with the arial like I had to as a kid because once I have the best possible reception, the quality is crap, it is all mono and the “connection” drops out more often than my wife’s ancient Blackberry.
    DAB has been the worst government failure of science & technology since the computerisation of … take your pick of departments … back in the late C20 but this one affects “the people” and of course will not be stopped for fear of embarrassment (too late).

  39. I agree with other posts. Any system to replace the current FM transmissions should provide better performance and our current version of DAB does not – from both the reception and audio quality points of view.
    DAB should also provide additional facilities at least as good as the current FM RDS service and a major feature of the current FM transmissions is the Traffic Announcement system provided by jumping to local radio stations. Although a digital traffic flow system may be available (a service now freely available via Smartphones) many drivers like an audio interruption giving local traffic information.
    DAB currently provides an inferior system to FM on all counts.

  40. Total digital listening in the UK is now over 39% but that includes online and digital TV (Freeview etc). DAB is only 25.9%. BHut of course the BBC et al talk up the total figure. [source: RAJAR figures for Q1 2015]

    And while the Norwegian government has announced the end of FM, Parliament has yet to pass the law. And there is opposition in Norway.

    It ain’t over till the fat lady sings – or, if its the worst of DAB, until the frog croaks through the mud 😉

  41. Had a hire car for a 200 mile journey this week and had to switch from DAB to FM, this technology is not ready!

  42. There is nothing wrong with the mp2 codec and DAB – it was cutting edge digital technology when it was developed in the late 1980’s. However, according to BBC Research who took a part in it’s development, stereo needed a 320 kbps bit-rate for good stereo quality. Current BBC DAB bit-rates vary between 192 (for Radio 3) to 128 kbps for other stations. Even Radio 4 has to broadcast stereo programmes in mono at 96 kbps because there isn’t enough radio spectrum when a sporting events on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra are scheduled. Consequently audio quality has greatly suffered at the expense of additional stations – never mind the quality, feel the width. Some commercial radio stations broadcast music programmes either in mono or in stereo at an excruciating 112 kbps.

    Don’t confuse digital with ‘better’. It is whatever you (they) choose to make it. In the case of the UK digital radio this has been spectacularly badly implemented. To be better than FM you would have to reduce the number of stations to a fifth of those currently broadcasting if continuing with mp2 – or use a variant of the AAC codec. That would mean adopting DAB+. By early 2000 the AAC codec was a mature standard so it would have been preferable to adopt it and standardise at that time. Instead, particularly the BBC, continued to promote the already obsolete mp2 codec DAB. It is no wonder the British public have not taken DAB to its hearts and it is why DAB is being largely iognored in favour of older ‘legacy’ formats which continue to ‘just work’ – such as FM.

    I do not mind progress but if you want to freely receive radio broadcasts over the air using just an aerial the current version of DAB is a backward step. The sooner DAB+ is broadcast (like the rest of the world) the better. To use an analogy, we are expected to accept 405-line monochrome TV when 625-line colour has been adopted elsewhere.

  43. DAB is an obsolete technology.

    DAB, along with the mp2 codec, was cutting-edge digital technology when it was developed in the late 1980’s. However, according to BBC Research who took a part in it’s development, it required a 320 kbps bit-rate for good quality stereo. By today’s standards it is very inefficient. Current BBC DAB bit-rates vary between 192 kbps (for Radio 3) and 128 kbps for some other stations. Even Radio 4 has to broadcast stereo programmes in mono at 96 kbps because there isn’t enough radio spectrum when a sporting events on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra are scheduled. Consequently audio quality has greatly suffered at the expense of additional stations – never mind the quality, feel the width. Some commercial radio stations broadcast music programmes either in mono or in stereo at an excruciating 112 kbps.

    Don’t confuse digital with ‘better’. It is whatever you (they) choose to make it. In the case of the UK digital radio this has been spectacularly badly implemented. To be better than FM you would have to reduce the number of stations to a fifth of those currently broadcasting if continuing with mp2 – or use a variant of the AAC codec. That would mean adopting DAB+. By early 2000 the AAC codec was a mature standard so it would have been preferable to adopt it and standardise at that time. Instead, particularly the BBC, continued to promote the already obsolete mp2 codec DAB. It is no wonder the British public have not taken DAB to its hearts and it is why DAB is being largely ignored in favour of older ‘legacy’ formats which continue to ‘just work’ – such as FM.

    I do not mind progress but if you want to freely receive radio broadcasts over the air using just an aerial the current version of DAB is a backward step. The sooner DAB+ is broadcast (like the rest of the world) the better. To use an analogy, we are expected to accept 405-line monochrome TV when 625-line colour has been adopted elsewhere.

  44. DAB is an obsolete technology.

    DAB, along with the mp2 codec, was cutting-edge digital technology when it was developed in the late 1980’s. However, according to BBC Research who took a part in it’s development, it required a 320 kbps bit-rate for good quality stereo. By today’s standards it is very inefficient. Current BBC DAB bit-rates vary between 192 kbps (for Radio 3) and 128 kbps for some other stations. Even Radio 4 has to broadcast stereo programmes in mono at 96 kbps because there isn’t enough radio spectrum when a sporting events on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra are scheduled. Consequently audio quality has greatly suffered at the expense of additional stations – never mind the quality, feel the width. Some commercial radio stations broadcast music programmes either in mono or in stereo at an excruciating 112 kbps.

    Don’t confuse digital with ‘better’. It is whatever you (they) choose to make it. In the case of the UK digital radio this has been spectacularly badly implemented. To be better than FM you would have to reduce the number of stations to a fifth of those currently broadcasting if continuing with mp2 – or use a variant of the AAC codec. That would mean adopting DAB+. By early 2000 the AAC codec was a mature standard so it would have been preferable to adopt it and standardise at that time. Instead, particularly the BBC, continued to promote the already obsolete mp2 codec DAB. It is no wonder the British public have not taken DAB to its hearts and it is why DAB is being largely ignored in favour of older ‘legacy’ formats which continue to ‘just work’ – such as FM.

    I do not mind progress but if you want to freely receive radio broadcasts over the air using just an aerial the current version of DAB is a backward step. The sooner DAB+ is broadcast (like the rest of the world) the better. To use an analogy, we are expected to accept 405-line monochrome TV when 625-line colour has been adopted elsewhere.

  45. ‘Unlike digital TV, which bit the dust in 2012, analogue radio would not be completely wiped from the airways.” A little copy editing required…

  46. The thing is that when implemented FM was properly financed at a time in the mid to late 20c when it was important to have a decent radio network. My dad spent hours getting r2/1 to work cos the local Humberside was mono in its after hours r2/1 so we could record the t40 in stereo. Its laughable that you should be expected to accept mono 64 now. The way DAB has been implemented is on a private scale as opposed to the govmt implementation of FM. Bauer and the like are purely looking to profitise with their fake competitions and they will obviously cram as many stations onto 1 multiplex as possible. Only now is the govmt selling digital two. They know that if they forced a minimum standard for the sound quality of dab noone would invest in a mast and that’s the end. I am sick of hearing the dlove adverts, I will never get a dab radio. I’m a home user so freesat and free view radio are good enough for me. I bought a Bluetooth speaker for the bedroom not a dab set and I’ve never regretted it. Digital radio isnt finished its just Dab thats finished when car streaming is reliable is cleverer ways of buffering between data outs then its truly finished

  47. Dab is OK, but for portable use, something has to be done about the excessive power consumption/short battery life.

    That, and we’re on the “old” dab system, not compatable with the rest of Europe. Bit of a bummer for those that travel.

    FM works everywhere, radios run for weeks on a couple of AA’s. Etc and so on.

  48. People need there ears testing! Retro 1980s mp2 @64kbps vs high quality FM forget it . some dab stations are AM quality. Scrap it !

  49. I agree with janaltus. Using DAB radio with batteries is a complete no, no… or if you want a pun, ‘switch-off’. You cannot leave the batteries in when not being used either! Left batteries, even brand new Duracell, will die in about a week of non-use. If DAB portables are going to have a future, they need a mechanical on/off switch, not an electronic one! And yes, even when being used, battery life is poor!

  50. Pillar, not pillow of the governments plan 😉
    We all learn something every day, if you don’t, you are lagging behind.

  51. Lets admit it. DAB is rubbish in this country. Very expensive to transmit (lots of transmitters to cover London for example), thus expensive for the contributors, ie £80,000 to £150,00 p.a instead of £20 to £30,000 for FM.
    And in most cases is a poor mono. Very difficult to penetrate buildings, so a lot of listeners CAN NEVER RECEIVE DAB in their homes. Batteries in portable radios run out very quickly thus very hungry for power
    Big plunder by the government of this country. The sooner we kill DAB the better.

  52. DAB won’t replace FM.

    Both DAB & FM will be replaced by Internet streaming.

    It will happen when the majority of cars have Internet connections in them (as many new high end ones already do).

    I have a DAB radio but I generally listen by streaming to my phone either over wifi when I’m at home or 3g/4g in my car. It’s much better than DAB, there are many, many more stations and there’s no need for stations to pay for licenses to broadcast, any one can set up an online radio station. There’s no lock-in to any particular codec or technology either. It’s also not encumbered by patents which is one of the biggest problems holding back DAB.

    I don’t see analogue radio being switched off any time soon though, perhaps downsized but not switched off.

  53. The article forgot the obvious..
    I have numerous, >10 FM devices in my house/car/tablets/phones.
    On the portable ones the drain on the battery is minimal (DAB is still large) so batteries last.
    DAB technology is still not small enough to be readily incorporated into small devices.
    Due to maximising radio stations on a single multiplex resulting quality is poorer then FM let alone the additional dropouts in areas of marginal reception (FM is more intelligable in areas of poor reception).
    When I can get tens of DAB devices that consume little power all over my house/portable devices then I’ll switch. One DAB radio in a house doesn’t constitute acceptance (as the government defines it).

    PS DAB encoding protocol is old and known to be flawed so we should change that too.

  54. An HTPC with a decent sound card installed…nothing else required…thousands upon thousands of radio stations including the BBC….job sorted

  55. Surely DAB has been superseded by DRM which can deliver FM comparable quality in the long wave, medium wave and short wave frequency range. Not only that it can deliver data similar to DAB and the fact that it works at the frequencies it does reduces the number of transmitters while at the same time having greater reach and less blackspots. For internet radio is the way at home, but while mobile (eg car) I need radio to not have blackspots – which rules out DAB due to transmitter install costs.

  56. Great article and it would have been nice to see statistics and scissuions regarding DAB on-the-move. The only time I listen to traditional radio is in the car. I’ve never had a car with a DAB radio and as I understand it the patchy nature is not improved by driving around the countryside.

  57. I had anticipated that at least one misguided person would come out with a statement that DAB was a good system. However reading through the comments not a single one has. I’m not at all surprised by this, as the demand for the Government to switch off FM in 2015 came solely from those who wanted to make money out of the change.

    The government, who collectively couldn’t put a plug on a kettle were convinced by the technical arguments put forward by Buauer etc. and started making plans. Then something hit the fan, I think it was called informed public opinion, which caused a rethink and the 2015 date was quickly dropped.

    I live in the densely populated South East, a few miles north of Brighton. Our local BBC station, Radio Sussex, has a DAB transmitter located in Brighton. There’s only one problem i.e. somebody has placed a bloody great pile of chalk in between it and large areas of East and West Sussex. It is promised that the transmitter at Heathfield is to be equipped with a DAB multiplex in the future, but no firm date has yet been announced.

    I agree with all the technical and viability issues raised by other posters and would add that a switch-over date hasn’t been confirmed yet. Government criteria has to be satisfied before there is a decision on when radio switch-over will happen, so don’t expect even the date to be announced until the end of 2016.

  58. As a sound systems engineer working in Radio & TV since 1977, DAB as adopted by the UK was the very worst idea launched on an unsuspecting public, way worse than the introduction of “optimod” to FM in the 80’s. It should have been put down at birth and better algorithms developed .. or waited for AAC as used in DAB+ (DAB2) and satellite radio broadcasting.

    DAB, or as many of my pro colleagues call it “Damaged Audio Broadcasting”, in the UK has become a race to the bottom quality wise. For those who have destroyed their ears ability to discriminate between sound and distortion through listening to too many low bit rate MP3’s, DAB is fine. Even at its best, 256Kb stereo, it’s impossible to get the 3D depth to a sound stage cause all the important subtle information the ear needs has been filtered out by the DAB MP2 processing.

    Those in control of the multiplex’s are ripping off the stations forcing them to go for lower and lower bit rates to “afford” the service in an era of dwindling advertising revenues. Too many stations are choosing to go mono and 82Kb to stay afloat.

    For those of us who have invested in cutting edge HiFi over the years, the thought of loosing FM at home is just a step too far.

  59. DAB is fine , if you have a decent signal. However do we really need it? I listen to radio mainly in my car (on FM). I find the mix of national and local stations is bore than sufficient. Let’s stick with what we have – change is fine but only when it is needed and never for the sake of it.

  60. I live on the Channel Islands now and although Jersey has the BBC DAB (five stations) collection, Guernsey isn’t scheduled to receive DAB until 2016/17.

    I have a small portable DAB receiver that I always use when I’m in London and the vast array of stations is fantastic and I get a lot of use out of it.

    DAB is definitely more of a “Stationary” medium when it comes to signal quality. Central London was fine but outside of the city centre the quality of signal varied dramatically, I had DAB installed in both cars and the only way you could get a decent signal was on the motorway or on a flat piece of land where you would be in line of site of the transmitters. DAB doesn’t like hills it seems…..

    The one thing that has disappointed me though is the quality. When DAB was first launched, stations like Radio 2 were running at a bitrate equal to good quality MP3 and sounded fantastic, now it’s only half and it’s nowhere near as good, most stations broadcast on mono as well. The first time I tuned into Radio 1 on a DAB tuner it was like going from bad tape to CD (the soundscape was amazing), now this is no longer the case.

    The danger for DAB though is internet radio, in the US it’s all satellite radio which sounds amazing but not available to UK listeners (unless someone has found a way to make it work).

  61. I was an early adopter of DAB with a Roberts DAB radio. It is still working now and lives by my PC. I have 2 other DAB radios in the house and have recently had one installed in my car. As for price you can pick them up cheaper now and I have seen models for cars that are not much more expensive than FM. The good thing is they do both DAB and FM. Myself I like planetrock and absolute 80s as well as a local station that’s internet and DAB only. As for power consumption I’ve seen DAB portable and home powered with solar built in as well as rechargeable that last 20 hours +. I am happy with DAB as for me its offered more choice. Especially now I have just purchased a new radio that does all 3, FM, DAB and Internet radio.

  62. If you have a decent quality FM tuner and a really good quality high gain dipole aerial ( pointing in the right direction ! ) then the sound quality is astonishing. I put my hands up to being a bit of a Hi-Fi Geek, but FM stereo sound will blow away DAB anytime. My brother-in-law is a technical manager at BBC Radio Scotland, and an amateur radio enthusiast ( HAM Radio ) – His views on DAB are even more jaundice than mine.

  63. I have a high quality and thus expensive analogue tuner connected to an expensive hifi.
    I also have an expensive analogue portable radio.
    I am a pensioner and bought these items whilst still working to entertain me when my income was low.
    I had to scrap a high quality working TV when analogue was switched off and am now on my 2nd digital one, obviously engineered obsolescence.
    Now I’m going to have to buy more kit – So much for planning for retirement!!!
    Maybe I’ve been unlucky, but all the DAB transmissions I’ve heard are poor quality. A bit like comparing CD to compressed MP3.
    So I’m now going to have to pay out yet more money for poorer quality sound that will most likely fail after a couple of years use. Is this really progress???

  64. Now 70+. we have two cars, mine will see me out, full stop. I have an add-on DAB redio – it’s cr**. The car would have to be scrapped to go DAB since the FM set which works fine everywhere – is part of the dash – as it is in the wife’s car as well.
    Worse most of my listening is on my HiFi – brilliant sound and ireplaceble – why should we just be expected to throw perfectly serviceable equipment away so that loads more ‘energy’ can be spent in making DAB sets and fortunes made by the manufacturers? Not that politicians are getting ‘gratuities’ or promise directorships/consultancies – oh no, perish the thought.

  65. I would love to go with DAB. I Have 2 take at home, a personal player and have given away an mp3 player with DAB to my son. BUT it seems the UK is not ready for digital radio! I could not get my brand new car died with a DAB radio unless ordered from the factory, and I cannot get a reliable signal within 3 miles of my home.

    Until the demand is there the car manufacturers wrong install by default and until the supply is there in the form of a reliable signal there won’t be the demand for radios.

    Conclusion: more money is required for investment in transmitters. As money is scarce this week not happen and those like me who have the misfortune to live in an area of poor coverage have wasted our money.

  66. Digital broadcast quality always sufferers because of an over compressed signal. Watching c5+1 or some of the less popular TV channels is painful. Sound on TV speakers is just about OK but with radio on headphones or hifi there is nowhere to hide. Broadcasters should monitor their output, or abortionists should vote with there feet, as there is no shortage of channels to take there money.

  67. if you are listening to a radio in the hills of England Wales or Scotland you are unlikely to ever receive a DAB signal -unless it could perhaps come via a satellite
    If ,as is suggested DAB is only received by 90% of the population that is not satisfactory

    Why change when FM works
    John Alexander

  68. If the right technical choices had been made then digital terrestrial audio could have been superior to analogue. But that’s not what happened. The transmitters run at lower power and twice the carrier frequency, so they don’t penetrate through walls as well. Too little spectrum was allocated, so there aren’t as many channels and there is pressure to squeeze in more channels by reducing bit rates and quality. The obsolete MP2 coding system was fixed so audio quality is inherently inferior and cannot be enhanced using better codecs like AAC or even lossless FLAC. In its current form, it may never alone achieve its threshold take-up for analogue switch-off but could eventually be overtaken by more versatile internet radio.

  69. I just do not see any advantage in DAB radio, from what I have heard of it, it certainly doesn’t sound any better, I do not listen to commercial radio stations so from that point of view it has nothing for me either
    Why waste time and money on flogging a dead horse, stop dumbing down FM broadcasts and spend the money improving them
    Mark

  70. Hopefully DAB will go the same way as Mini disc. DAB sound quality is simply awful. I have been given a fairly expensive DAB Arcam tuner. I hate the compressed and harsh sound, it makes my ears bleed. I will be getting rid if it. My Rotel FM tuner wipes the floor with it.

  71. One other thing I have noticed, is the huge amount of DAB radios being dumped at our local re-cycling centre, I can only assume it is because they are not working or are not wanted, I go about once a week and there are always DAB radios in the small electrical skip, so does this mean they are not as reliable?

  72. I have had 3 dab radio’s die over the last 5 years now using Roberts Dab radio’s as they are more reliable & have more sensitive tuners than Pure radios so I can pick up all 3 of the London multiplexes with a telescopic aerial with the Roberts Dab,

    What is holding Dab back is the fact that UK Dab using MP2 is a very old system & not as good as Dab+ in MP3 as used by the rest of the World,

    It is a shame that Dab started in the UK too soon & an inferior MP2 system was adopted the other thing that lets Dab down is the low bit rates used in Mono to get more channels per multiplex,

    Stereo VHF/FM is superior as the operator cannot have more than one channel per frequency.

  73. I listen to radio a lot. I have a radio in each room, one in the car and a couple of portables. Replacing this lot would cost a fortune and what do I get – inferior quality and flaky reception.

    There is no new service offered by DAB that I want or need. I can get “digital” radio via my TV or computer for no additional cost and at better quality than a DAB radio would provide.

    The DAB protocol itself is obsolescent – DAB+ offers a more efficient broadcast with better error correction. Of course it also makes all existing DAB radios obsolete and still brings nothing new to the table.

    DAB as it stands is a useless moneypit which should be taken out and shot (excuse the mixed metaphor). The only reason it has survived this long is that too many people would lose face if they admitted it was a failure.

  74. This editorial needs editing, there are several glaring mistakes in the grammar

    DAB reception is awful in parts of east anglia

  75. “This editorial needs editing, there are several glaring mistakes in the grammar”

    Like a missing full stop after ‘grammar’?

  76. Diabolical DAB is dead, very poor quality and intermittent. Who the devil cares what Norway does?

  77. Part of the problem on the Band II FM is the poor implementation of the national services. The frequency spreads were necessary back in the 1950s when FM began, but today, with modern domestic and mobile receivers, it’s perfectly possible to cover a country with a National FM service on just two adjacent FM frequencies. Radio 2 doesn’t need to be on “88 – 92 MHz” – it could have perfectly good coverage if the existing transmitters were all moved to either 88 MHz or 88.3MHz. If they were alternated up the country, the coverage would be fine.

    With that kind of basic, cheap and simple re-engineering, the five or six National FM services could all be fitted into the low end of the band – perhaps 87.9 up to 92.9 MHz. The next area of the band – perhaps up to 100 MHz – could be for city-wide or smaller regional broadcasters. Finally, 100 – 107.9MHz could be for low power local stations and “community of interest” stations.

    Instead of the current, inept mess on Band II a little bit of intelligent planning could remove the “need” for DAB altogether. Persuading the BBC to relinquish the 70% of the available bandwidth that they current sprawl over will be difficult, but there’s little political support for the BBC these days, and large chunks of it are certain to be privatised in the next few years. The BBC need to be TOLD to re-engineer their National FM services, or risk having them taken away from them. There is already a government discussion document that discusses the means for privatising Radio 1 and 2….

    DAB is an unnecessary, inferior medium and OFCOM can’t give away some of the bandwidth outside the major cities!

    It’s also amusing to note that the only area in which DAB is close to working at all well is Central London, where the MPs spend most of their time…..

  78. I had a DAB and it was terrible, a set of 6 batteries would last 4 to 5 hours and it needed a mains transformer, my older FM radio would last week or months depending on listening and the one in the shower, batteries last at least 9 months.

    The DAB radio was susceptible to cutting out despite being in a strong signal area and I did notice absolutely no improvement in overall sound quality other than it had a better background cut off filter.

  79. Because of all the comments above I have no desire to buy a DAB radio, as I use the TV for my very small amount of radio listening in the house. Out on the road my car which is a 2010 Astra has only FM & MW and to replace that radio would cost to much even a straight replacement I understand is over £500 + dealer labour cost, so that would be the end of listening to the radio in the car and no traffic reports of what is causing traffic jams up ahead.

    No thanks, just scrap the DAB and save money and power and heart ache.

  80. I own a number of vintage radios, including transistor sets from the 70s. The sound quality on some of these is quite stunning: of course we never thought that back in the day, but exposure to today’s cheaply made sets (even on FM) has perhaps led to a genuine dumbing down of audio expectations for portable radio. My particular grouse is the absence of a tone control on modern DAB sets: I think these are essential if want to be able to optimise your set for speech, rock, classical etc.. so where has it gone? All but the cheapest of my 70s sets have one of these and they can transform audio quality….

    My solution is to feed my DAB channels through a 1972 ITT KB radio using a din connection: vast improvement and I can here what people are saying thanks to the ITT KB’s tone control… free from the pop-friendly “wall of bass” that Pure, Roberts and the rest all seem to regard as audio perfection… Of course, listening to a program on the ITT KB’s own FM band is better still….. so, yes, choice apart, DAB is a ludicrously inferior step backwards..

  81. I use a manual cap FM tuner with a half-wave antenna

    I would rather saw my leg off with a rusty hacksaw than listen to DAB

  82. How can they switch over when the idiots who invented led lights in the house interfere with dab radio signals, when we switch our kitchen lights on we have to switch to fm.

  83. I will follow up my comment, with digital two we have seen an improvement, i have now got a 10 GBP kitsound dab radio and with Virgin UK coming on DAB only this is my only data churn free way of listening to it. We are still backing the wrong horse. It is possible to put DAB+ on DAB channels but most of the time it is a token gesture as legacy dab sets cant see them. What a mess i think as internet get rolled out and inovative collective data streams rolled out to 4g masts it may give the govm the excuse to bury dab

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