Ofcom announces trials to help small stations join digital radio
24 February 2015
Ofcom has today announced trials of a new technology that could provide small radio stations across the UK with an affordable way to broadcast on DAB digital radio.
If the trials are successful, UK radio listeners could benefit from more local and community radio stations on DAB.
Currently, the cost of broadcasting on DAB is beyond the reach of many small radio stations.
But a new approach, pioneered by Ofcom engineer Rashid Mustapha, means that small scale radio stations could start broadcasting on DAB radio for a fraction of current costs.
The new approach is cheaper than current systems because it uses software freely available from opendigitalradio.org, rather than relying on often expensive hardware equipment. Known as ‘small scale DAB’, it is best suited for broadcasting to small geographic areas, ideal for community and local radio stations.
The UK’s first small scale DAB experiment
The UK’s first experimental small scale DAB ‘multiplex’ using a discrete amount of the airwaves to broadcast was set up in 2012.
Ofcom engineer Rashid Mustapha was granted a test licence and installed a low power digital radio transmitter on a Brighton roof-top. The test, which used a small transmitter, freely available software code from opendigitalradio.org and a ‘Linux’ computer, successfully delivered a reliable, high quality digital radio broadcast. The test transmission was an audio track of squawking seagulls.
Rashid, a senior broadcast specialist at Ofcom, said: “The first test of the small scale DAB concept was from the roof of the tallest building in East Sussex. Despite an unexpected delay to the start of the experiment while waiting for young Peregrine falcons to fly from their nest, the technology provided very encouraging results.”
“The trials being announced today are the next step in potentially helping hundreds of small stations to start broadcasting on digital radio.”
Trials for dozens of digital radio stations
Ofcom has today confirmed plans for up to ten trials of small scale DAB across the UK.
Each trial will allow new digital radio services to broadcast to a local area and will help explore how groups of radio stations can work together.
The trials will also inform Ofcom’s work on identifying suitable frequencies for broadcasting smaller digital stations and help understand how these services could be licensed.
Ofcom is today inviting applications to take part in the trials, which are expected to run for nine months. The deadline for applications is 3pm on 7 April 2015.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom Consumer and Content Group Director, Ofcom, said: “We’re looking for local and community radio stations to take part in trials to test this innovative new technology.”
“If successful, this could significantly benefit digital radio listeners up and down the country.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is funding Ofcom’s work on how small stations could access DAB digital radio.
Digital radio in the UK
Almost half of UK adults (48.9%) say they now own a digital DAB radio set and 37.9% of all radio listening is digital.
The first national commercial DAB multiplex, operated by Digital One, now carries 14 digital radio stations, and a second, national commercial DAB multiplex is expected to launch next year.
As well as increasing the capacity for national digital radio, Ofcom is supporting the Local DAB Expansion plan, which will bring local DAB radio services from commercial broadcasters and the BBC to even more UK homes.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Ofcom will award short term multiplex licences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006.
- Ofcom expects to accommodate the trial multiplexes amongst existing DAB multiplexes and in a portion of adjacent spectrum not being used by other radio services.
- Ofcom will look to provide the majority of equipment necessary to establish the small scale DAB multiplexes if requested by an applicant.
- Ofcom is looking for applicants who are able to provide their own transmitter sites and at least two programme services from different providers. The full eligibility and assessment criteria are set out in the Invitation to Apply.