DAB+ services launch in UK

By James Cridland for
Posted 28 January 2016, 6.38pm est

Solent Wireless

Two new services have launched in the UK operating in DAB+ only.

DAB+, a newer version of DAB in use in Europe and Australia, needs less bitrate to achieve the same audio quality. It does this by using AAC to encode the audio instead of MP2. With DAB+, broadcasters can transmit lots more stations in decent audio quality.

The Portsmouth DAB small-scale multiplex trial has added two new services: Awaaz FM and a service called Indulgence which are both available in DAB+.

Indulgence is the first UK radio service to launch exclusively in DAB+.

An 'old' DAB radio will either simply not see these new services, or will offer the chance to upgrade your set to make it DAB+ compatible. This can be done for a nominal fee which covers licensing costs for AAC, charged by the inventors of the format, a German company called Fraunhofer. A licensing cost is also charged to the multiplex operator.

DAB+ will already be present in DAB radios that also have access to online radio (like the Pure Evoke Flow, which was probably the first DAB+ receiver available in the UK). If it has a Digital Radio tickmark somewhere on the box, it'll cope with DAB+ transmissions. And if your car had DAB pre-installed in it, like 80% of cars do these days, it'll already be capable of receiving DAB+. There are, though, many sets available in the UK which don't support DAB+.

I understand there will be more DAB+ services on the Portsmouth multiplex in the next few weeks.

The UK has been slow in adopting the DAB+ standard, partially for fear of communicating to consumers that they'll have to replace their old DAB radio sets. Since it isn't something that, by itself, helps the "50% of listening by digital" goal that the industry is aiming for, it's unlikely to be quickly used by existing broadcasters, even though it can offer better audio quality and can lower broadcaster transmission prices.

Denmark, Switzerland and Norway are among the countries that launched with the original DAB, and then switched over entirely to DAB+. Countries like Malta and Australia have never used MP2 DAB, and launched with DAB+. In Australia, 24% of the population in capital cities already use DAB+ once a week; in the UK, 39% use DAB.

The first service to broadcast on DAB+ in the UK was Folder Media's Fun Kids in Wrexham in September 2014, which was a short-term trial for four months.

A national DAB+ service is promised by the winners of the second commercial multiplex. I understand there may be more at launch.

Opinion: I'm delighted to see DAB+ being used in the UK, and am deeply critical of the industry's tardy support for it, which (it would seem to me) has just made it more difficult for the industry to switch over. The new broadcasting format offers many benefits to broadcasters and listeners alike. I look forward to more multiplexes using the technology; and for pressure put on retailers and manufacturers to stop selling DAB-only sets.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


5 years, 3 months ago

The confusing mess for Mr and Mrs average listener continues . Whatever happened to one radio does all . The quality of some dab stations is a disgrace to the word quality and some music stations are in mono ! That's true advancement ?

5 years, 3 months ago

It's great that Solent Wireless have started DAB+ services. This really is an advancement [technically speaking]. Hopefully when DAB+ is more widely available we can have more services in Stereo as the mono nation we live in is just awful.
Though with DAB+, the average consumer must be educated on why. Which I think the radio industry & government have failed so far.

5 years, 3 months ago

Currently spending a few days with family in Dumfries and listening to a Roberts Stream 205 with an embedded DAB+ decoder.
It is time to break a few eggs. How about the proposition of a DAB+ exclusive phase over as part of a five year plan for digital switchover, years 2020 to 2024/5??

5 years, 3 months ago

@Willie Bone I agree. Let's do it. Though I would say from 2018 onwards. But your recomdation is more realistic!

5 years, 3 months ago

If you were to tell people that their DAB sets would become obselete, so the thinking goes, you'd risk slowing down the switchover and we'd hit that 50% target later. And nobody wants that.

My suggestion, nearly ten years ago, was that the BBC should make R1, R2, R3 and R4 only available on DAB+. Leave the rest as is. (You could also add Scotland, Wales and Ulster to the national mux in DAB+). That way, you're not removing any services from listeners - they all still have FM sets anyway - and accelerating the DAB+ uptake. This was resoundly poo-pooed, since, of course, it would get in the way of the 50% target.

The 50% target doesn't benefit anyone: consumers are oblivious of it and are already making the decision to switch, the industry is embarrassed at how long it is taking to achieve, and it is holding back things like this. (It is also holding back things like RadioDNS integration, since that makes FM work better as well as DAB, and therefore....)

5 years, 3 months ago

James Cridland: A couple of weeks after Freeview was launched, I purchased a set top decoder for around £99 pounds. I think it was a couple of years later, Freeview did a software/transmission upgrade of which disenfranchised my set top box.
My initial reaction was shouting "what the f**k"!
A couple of days later, I purchased a new Freeview box which could receive the new transmission format.
The point being, I liked and respected the Freeview content, giving the best extended offer of public service television; so buying a decoder replacement was "a must"!

I am sure, Mr and Mrs Joe Public will share the same sentiment with digital radio!
Let's get bold out there and bring it on with DAB+ in the early 2020s! Those who hesitate are lost!!

5 years, 3 months ago

You mention the possibility of upgrading and "old DAB" set "to make it DAB+ compatible", adding "This can be done for a nominal fee(...)" I bought my DAB set in the UK, before moving to Switzerland where we had DAB services for a couple of years before DAB+ was introduced. It must be said that DAB wasn't pushed as Swiss radio knew they would introduce the new format. I have a question: how / where can you upgrade a DAB set to DAB+. I never thought it was possible believing it was chip dependent. I frequently travel back to the UK, so it wouldn't be a problem for me to have it done there, if it can't be done in Switzerland.

5 years, 3 months ago

There was a short test of Sound Digital's DAB+ service today. Was pleased to find out my Pure Move 2500 can decode DAB+. Impressed with the sound quality for what is either a 28k or 32k MP2 AAC+ stream. (The Pure Move 2500 doesn't show bitrates).

5 years, 3 months ago

I have a question: how / where can you upgrade a DAB set to DAB+. I never thought it was possible believing it was chip dependent.

I've seen this with a Pure radio (a Pure One, while tuned into a test multiplex). It will show the station, and when you tune to it, it will say something like "to upgrade your radio, visit" or something.

Pure themselves say, on their website:

If you have a Pure Highway,One Elite, Evoke1s or Elan ll; please click on the link below

5 years, 3 months ago

Impressed with the sound quality for what is either a 28k or 32k MP2 AAC+ stream.

It's a 32k AAC+ stream (it isn't MP2); and it is using a funny stereo mode which apparently some radios are having problems decoding, because standards.

5 years, 3 months ago

I know I might take some flak for this, but I can't help but think that by the time DAB and/or DAB+ has enough up take, say 4 to 5 years time, most people would've switched to mobile internet streams.

Myself, and many people I know both in and out of the industry, use apps like TuneIn on there smart phones to listen to U.K stations. And more cars have bluetooth audio support, than DAB.

I'm going to duck down now behind my chair. lol

5 years, 3 months ago

What's "enough uptake", Matt?

47%? 35%? 2%?

Myself, and many people I know both in and out of the industry, use apps like TuneIn on there smart phones to listen to U.K stations.

The problem is that AM/FM accounts for 47% of all radio listening... DAB accounts for 35%... while mobile phones account for just 2%.

Looking forward to the next four or five years, because there'll certainly be some change!

5 years, 3 months ago

James, thanks for the reply regarding possible upgrades of DAB sets to DAB+.
Unfortunately the sets concerned are a [small] Philips boombox and a Roberts DAB / WiFi radio, at least the WiFi works!

5 years, 3 months ago

Trouble with Internet streaming is that mobile internet via unreliable and very patchy. Only broadcast, DAB+ Or other, is suitable to overcome this.

5 years, 3 months ago

My 6 month old focus with sync ii- would that get an upgrade? Is it software?

5 years, 3 months ago

Peter - if your Ford has a DAB radio in it, it'll be capable of DAB+ as well.

5 years, 3 months ago

Nice write up James, thanks. Only thing missing is the photo credit :-)

On the face of it, it appears some radios do indeed support DAB+ even though they don't have a logo or anything obvious to indicate this. Of course, ensuring a radio has the DAB+ logo or Digital Radio green tick mark is a sure fire way to identify a DAB+ radio.

We've worked hard in Portsmouth to get DAB+ going, and it's a relief to have it working. Feedback has been generally positive so far too. In the next few days we plan to launch two more DAB+ services, bringing the total to four.

Today, Sound Digital announced that Fun Kids, Jazz FM and Magic Chilled will launch as DAB+ services on their multiplex on 29th February.

In the UK, 2016 may well be remembered as the year of DAB+.

5 years, 3 months ago

Only thing missing is the photo credit :-)

Bottom-right of the page, with all our credits... :)

5 years, 3 months ago

Well, to bring this thread up to date, we now have four DAB+ services as this Tuesday evening we added Radio Caroline in DAB+ and a simulcast of Mango Vibe in DAB+ to the Portsmouth minimux.

5 years, 2 months ago

Picking up test transmission for Sound Waves and Sound Waves+ this morning in South Ayrshire, but cannot yet determine whether the signal is being transmitted from Black Hill/Kirk 'O'Shotts or from Darvel within Ayrshire!
Signal is robust in my neck of the woods...

5 years, 2 months ago

Rock solid in my area, despite being out in the sticks. More puzzling is that the signal is stronger than D1 in some places!!!!!

5 years, 2 months ago

I did have some initial concerns as the signal strength was weaker than Trial London here, but is now the same as London 1-3, D1, BBC and Trial London.

5 years, 2 months ago

It's pretty strong here in East Kent but I'm in a decidedly rural location right on the edge of the transmitter (Dunkirk) area, so I can only get a signal if I walk half a mile up the nearest hill (a year or so ago this was also necessary to get 3G/4G.) BBC & D1 both broadcast from the massive Dover transmitter – the lights of which I can actually see clearly at night – but there's no clearance for this multiplex due to interference with Europe.

Sound Digital have really crammed the stations in and I think it's a questionable decision by Planet Rock, Absolute 80s etc. to migrate from D1 given the inevitable loss of listener goodwill when so many people will find they can no longer receive a station they like. But then, people have been making these sort of decisions for decades now.

DAB+? Well it's nice to finally get it, but to be honest, at 32kbps, even considering I was standing on a windy hillside at the time, Jazz FM doesn't sound particularly great (and yes, the stereo is a bit strange) It's a great pity that DAB is still a last resort for anyone who appreciates audio quality (or has a radio with two speakers) given web/mobile streaming is such an absurdly inefficient way to listen, and yet, although unlimited data plans have all but disappeared, metered bundles are steadily getting cheaper. Who these days would bother to buy a DAB radio for portable listening?

In terms of content, I'm very excited by Share Radio which I hadn't even heard of until yesterday, though they've been broadcasting in London since 2014. It sounds very professional and they're really filling a gap in the market, I hope they can keep going. Lovely that Jazz FM are going national too. I'll reserve judgement on Talk Radio until I've heard it (which won't be until late March), though I'm pleased Julia Hartley Brewer and Iain Lee have shows again.

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