In the ditch with DAB radio

We're different - right hand drive cars, sterling, DAB...


Analysis In 2008, the wheels fell off the DAB digital radio platform. Last week, after a year of deliberation, the government’s Digital Radio Working Group concluded that outdated DAB technology should be the sole broadcast platform for UK radio, irrespective of global market conditions or the impractical cost of its implementation. Whilst nobody would argue against a digital future for radio, the Group's particular and peculiar vision of that digital future is more contentious. It recommends that existing FM and AM transmitters should be switched off, to be replaced by DAB, once radio listening has passed a threshold of 50 per cent via digital platforms. However, there are a number of challenges that would need to be overcome before such a plan could be realised.

Paradoxically, the greatest obstacle is that the UK’s existing FM analogue radio transmission system already provides amazingly robust radio reception to 99 per cent of the population. Thanks to the Herculean efforts since 1955 of BBC engineers who constructed 230 transmitter sites across the UK, an almost ‘universal’ radio service is available to listeners. When commercial radio launched in 1973, its FM rollout simply duplicated the infrastructure already operated by the BBC.

In television, the imperative for digital switchover was to offer consumers a wider choice than the maximum five channels available nationally on analogue, and the lure was significant revenue for the Treasury from an auction of valuable spectrum. However, in radio, the existing analogue spectrum is already sufficient to offer many more services than TV (32 stations in London, local and national), while Ofcom research finds that most consumers are satisfied with their existing choice of radio stations. Neither does the AM nor FM spectrum hold value for the Treasury, as much is likely to be re-assigned to non-profit community radio services.

For commercial radio, the Working Group’s recommendation that it invest in launching further digital-only services to attract listeners to the DAB platform would only exacerbate the sector’s precarious financial situation. In fact, 2008 witnessed the closure of many digital radio brands – TheJazz, OneWord, Core, Virgin Radio Groove, Capital Life, Mojo Radio – that had already failed to generate sufficient audiences or revenues. Ratings for existing analogue ‘heritage’ stations are declining, and sector revenues were falling even before the Credit Crunch, making it impossible for the commercial radio sector to divert more resources into new digital ventures.

In terms of UK market penetration, nearly a decade after the DAB platform launched, only a minority of consumers are demonstrating an interest in purchasing DAB radio receivers. 79 per cent of new radios sold during the last 12 months were analogue rather than DAB, and the decade-plus lifespan of the average radio makes the natural replacement cycle slow, particularly when a typical household owns six radios. The Working Group’s expectation that, by the end of 2010, unit sales of DAB radios will exceed those of analogue radios looks very unlikely.

Even amongst the minority of consumers who own DAB radio receivers, the majority of their listening via digital platforms is to stations they can already receive on analogue radio. Only 27 per cent of commercial radio listening via digital platforms (DAB + digital TV + internet) is to digital-only stations, a proportion that has declined during 2008 as many digital-only brands have closed.

Data from the same RAJAR survey shows that in-car listening accounts for 20 per cent of total radio usage in the UK, though DAB radios remain a rarity in cars. In 2007, 2.4 million new vehicles were registered in the UK, of which around a third offered the option to include a DAB radio as a standard ‘line-fit’ or as an optional extra. Yet only 20,000 buyers chose to install a DAB radio. It is estimated that, out of 34 million cars on the road in the UK, only 170,000 to 200,000 presently have DAB radios fitted.


Other stories you might like

  • Apple's latest security feature could literally save lives
    Cupertino is so sure of Lockdown Mode it's offering $2m to bug hunters to break it

    Apple's latest security feature won't be used by most of its customers, but those who need Lockdown Mode could find it to be a literal life saver.

    The functionality, coming with iOS/iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura, dramatically shrinks an iDevice's attack surface by disabling many of its features. It's designed to protect the small number of Apple users who, "because of who they are or what they do, may be personally targeted by some of the most sophisticated digital threats, such as those from NSO Group and other private companies developing state-sponsored mercenary spyware," Apple said in a statement. 

    Lockdown, thus, effectively reduces the number of potential vulnerabilities spyware could exploit to compromise a device, cutting the possible routes into surveillance targets' kit.

    Continue reading
  • Has Intel gone too far with its Ohio fab 'delay' stunt?
    With construction unceremoniously underway, x86 giant may have overplayed its hand

    COMMENT The way Intel has been talking about the status of its $20 billion Ohio fab project, you would be forgiven if you assumed that construction on the Midwest mega-site has been delayed in light of Congress struggling to pass a large subsidies package that would support new American chip factories.

    When Intel delayed a groundbreaking ceremony for the Ohio manufacturing site two weeks ago out of frustration over the subsidies inaction, some headlines may have given you the impression the semiconductor giant was putting off construction entirely.

    However, an Intel spokesperson made it clear to The Register and others at the time that the start date for construction had not changed.

    Continue reading
  • Hive ransomware gang rapidly evolves with complex encryption, Rust code
    RaaS malware devs have been busy bees

    The Hive group, which has become one of the most prolific ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operators, has significantly overhauled its malware, including migrating the code to the Rust programming language and using a more complex file encryption process.

    Researchers at the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) uncovered the Hive variant while analyzing a change in the group's methods.

    "With its latest variant carrying several major upgrades, Hive also proves it's one of the fastest evolving ransomware families, exemplifying the continuously changing ransomware ecosystem," the researchers said in a write-up this week.

    Continue reading
  • What do you mean your exaflop is better than mine?
    Gaming the system was fine for a while, now it's time to get precise about precision

    Comment A multi-exaflop supercomputer the size of your mini-fridge? Sure, but read the fine print and you may discover those performance figures have been a bit … stretched.

    As more chipmakers bake support for 8-bit floating point (FP8) math into next-gen silicon, we can expect an era of increasingly wild AI performance claims that differ dramatically from the standard way of measuring large system performance, using double-precision 64-bit floating point or FP64.

    When vendors shout about exascale performance, be aware that some will use FP8 and some FP64, and it's important to know which is being used as a metric. A computer system that can achieve (say) 200 peta-FLOPS of FP64 is a much more powerful beast than a system capable of 200 peta-FLOPS at just FP8.

    Continue reading
  • Meta's AI translation breaks 200 language barrier
    Open source model improves translation of rarer spoken languages by 70%

    Meta's quest to translate underserved languages is marking its first victory with the open source release of a language model able to decipher 202 languages.

    Named after Meta's No Language Left Behind initiative and dubbed NLLB-200, the model is the first able to translate so many languages, according to its makers, all with the goal to improve translation for languages overlooked by similar projects. 

    "The vast majority of improvements made in machine translation in the last decades have been for high-resource languages," Meta researchers wrote in a paper [PDF]. "While machine translation continues to grow, the fruits it bears are unevenly distributed," they said. 

    Continue reading
  • Tracking cookies found in more than half of G20 government websites
    Sorry, conspiracy theorists, it's more likely sloppy webdev work rather than spying

    We expect a certain amount of cookie-based tracking on retail websites and social networks, but in some countries up to 90 percent of government sites have implemented trackers – and serve them seemingly without user consent. 

    A study evaluated more than 118,000 URLs of 5,500 government websites – think .gov, .gov.uk. .gov.au, .gc.ca, etc – hosted in the twenty largest global economies – the G20 – and discovered a surprising tracking cookie problem, even among countries party to Europe's GDPR and those who have their own data privacy regulations.

    On average, the study found, more than half of cookies created on G20 government websites were third-party cookies, meaning they were created by outside entities typically to collect information on the user. At least 10 percent, going up to 90 percent, come from known third party cookies or trackers, we're told.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022