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Author Topic: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?  (Read 17123 times)

VulpesRex

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"Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« on: 22.04.2015, 06:01:10 »

   Alright, this is about as non-furry and non-Eurofurence as it can be.

   I am asking this here, because it is something which you bold europeans are experimenting with (and which Norway seems about to make official and exclusive by 2017), but which is totally unknown to radio listeners in North America.

   WHAT is this "Digital Radio"?  Is it likely to officially replace traditional Frequency Modulation ("FM") radio for broadcast media across Europe?  Does this mean that everyone will have to either buy convertors or new radio equipment (like home stereos, iPod radios, and car radios) in order to listen to music/news/weather/sports? ???

   Do you still have Amplitude Modulation ("AM") Mediumwave broadcasters?  For that matter - is there still commercial or public Longwave and Shortwave international broadcast services (I know that the BBC has long since discontinued their North American broadcast services, figuring anyone in the USA who wants to listen does so via streaming audio on the Internet)?

   We know nothing of such things over here; the only additional audio broadcast sources here besides the traditional AM and FM broadcast stations are the satellite systems (Sirius, for example)...and most new cars here are not equipped to receive the satellite broadcasts (although you can order it bespoke from the car dealer if you want a custom car, and every dealer has a few (usually "high-end") models on their showroom floor or out in the lot which are so equipped from the factory).

   Are there legitimate technical reasons to force a shift?  Does it improve sound or range, or free up spectrum space for more broadcasters?

   Is there actually Public or Market Demand for this?

   ...Or is this something being pushed by a few commercial "special interests"?
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meeko

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #1 on: 22.04.2015, 08:46:51 »

Speaking only as a Brit we have DAB radio and Digital TV. When Digital TV was rolled out converter boxes were supplied to many household to make it less painful and all went reasonably well and analogue TV was switched off.

However there hasn't been any such assistance with DAB radio and even though radio prices are now quite modest public uptake has been slow such that the government now has no plan to switch off analogue radio in the foreseeable future.

We still habe BBC Radio 4 (spoken word) on Long Wave, various BBC and commercial broadcasters on Medium Wave and some broadcasts still from the BBC on Short Wave. Music is still preferred on FM as DAB can be quite patchy.
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pierrot90

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #2 on: 22.04.2015, 15:40:19 »

They tried DAB in the Netherlands, and it was a total failure.
Now DAB is obsolete and not supported any more, resulting in DAB radio's not functioning.
They're trying DAB+ right now.

Just stick to FM, they won't replace it for the time being. (biggest problem was that the FM range was saturated)

AM is still in use today. Although mostly are public radio services.
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Cheetah

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #3 on: 22.04.2015, 18:21:09 »

DAB has a hard time getting adopted because ... nobody really needs it. At home, pretty much everyone I know has switched to internet streaming of some sort - and there's no need for either DAB or traditional FM radio any more.

For use in the car, a standard wins or loses by coverage - and one thing you can't beat FM radio for, is the fault tolerance. Even if you're at the outer edge of a transmitters range ,you can pretty much still keep listening - even if there's the occasional bit of static or dropouts. With DAB, if you don't have perfect coverage, it pretty much cuts out and that's it.

Another thing is: Overpriced subscription services. Who in their right mind will pay for digital traffic information, if google basically provides it for free?
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Leophan

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #4 on: 22.04.2015, 22:15:45 »

I can confirm that Norway will close it's FM band in 2017 in favor of DAB and DAB+

o'wolf

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #5 on: 22.04.2015, 23:23:23 »

   I am asking this here, because it is something which you bold europeans are experimenting with (and which Norway seems about to make official and exclusive by 2017), but which is totally unknown to radio listeners in North America.  WHAT is this "Digital Radio"?

America has been experimenting with the proprietary IBOC ("HD Radio") system as a bridging technology (a digital stream on a sub carrier of a regular FM station) in some regions, but as far as I know that never really took off. So basically, the situation in the US is traditional FM (VHF) and AM (MW) stations for local and regional broadcast, and country-wide pay radio stations via satellite (Sirius XM). Satellite radio is virtually unknown in Europe, basically due to the fragmented market with a large number of languages to support and only few Pan-European stations. AM radio on medium wave has been almost completely shut down, it's successor Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) wasn't successful. FM radio is still going strong. Since the 3m broadcast radio band is rather crowded in densely populated areas, and more and more stations asking for bandwidth, a decision has been made by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to migrate to digital radio. The first iteration was DAB ("Digital Audio Broadcasting"), a bunch of multiplexed MPEG1 MP2 encoded audio streams, modulated as COFDM, which allows single-frequency networks and reliable mobile reception. It has been phased out recently and replaced with DAB+, which uses the MPEG4 HE AAC v2 audio codec and adds Forward Error Correction. Due to the more efficient compression a DAB+ multiplex can have up to twice the number of DAB streams. Needless to say a DAB+ signal cannot be decoded by a DAB receiver, it requires new equipment. The frequencies used are in the VHF III band (a former analogue TV area) and for local stations in the L band, so it doesn't clash with traditional FM radio. IBOC, in contrast, requires the double bandwidth on the already crowded FM band for each multiplex.

Quote
Is it likely to officially replace traditional Frequency Modulation ("FM") radio for broadcast media across Europe?  Does this mean that everyone will have to either buy convertors or new radio equipment (like home stereos, iPod radios, and car radios) in order to listen to music/news/weather/sports? ???

If the EBU has it their way, FM radio would be switched off everywhere in Europe in 2017. This is not likely to happen, not even 2021 (politicians love that number for some unknown reason...) to which it has been postponed by Germany. The problem is that nobody buys a receiver as long as FM radio is still around, but the FM signal can't be turned off before a certain ratio of DAB+ receivers has been reached. So manufacturers had been waiting for the programs to start broadcasting in DAB/DAB+, and the radio stations were waiting for receivers becoming available. At least there are now relatively inexpensive DAB+ radios to buy, but still it's a rather small market, and the only reason there are programs to listen to in Germany is a) the strong public radio landscape and b) massive subsidies by the German states. DAB+ receivers for cars, which is the most important use of broadcast radio, are quite rare, though. Also, many areas of Germany are still not covered, see the map at http://digitalradio.de/index.php/de/empfangneu — the map is overly optimistic, of course.

The whole thing is probably going to fail like the DVB-T (our equivalent of ATSC) disaster. They replaced analogue TV with it here, but almost everyone is on cable or satellite anyway, and except for some metropolitan areas only public television is available, as the commercial broadcasters plainly refuse to pay for distribution unless they can go pay TV (which will be DVB-T2, rendering all DVB-T receivers worthless...)

In the meantime, Internet access via mobile phone has become affordable and available almost anywhere, G4/LTE is stable even at fast Autobahn speeds, so Internet radio will likely render DAB+ obsolete before it becomes available everywhere. Traffic information is the main reason why drivers in Germany (and other European countries) listen to broadcast radio. You can get traffic information from Google Maps or as a subscription service from other vendors via Internet now. This will obsolete broadcast radio before DAB+ covers the same area as FM radio nowadays.

The only problem nobody thinks about: how to inform the public in case of a major disaster. Mobile Internet is rather complicated and fragile, structure-wise. Feeding or deploying an AM or FM transmitter during some catastrophic event is trivial. We'll lose that venue, and only few people even realize that this might become a big issue eventually.

My prediction: DAB+ is not going anywhere, FM radio will stay (though likely with less stations) for at least another 10 years, nobody will give a damn in the end because Internet radio or streaming services is going to be ubiquitous and affordable for everyone. And we're all gonna die because nobody can tell us about the big meteorite about to hit the earth.
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Fineas

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #6 on: 23.04.2015, 12:16:38 »

...And we're all gonna die because nobody can tell us about the big meteorite about to hit the earth.

As if we will be able to dodge the thing anyway, even if we knew.</sarcasm>

But your argument is the same as what is going on the Netherlands here about the air sirens they want to remove and replace by a combination of phone/tv/radio based alarm...
http://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nieuws/binnenland/nooit-meer-sirenes-op-de-eerste-maandag-van-de-maand

... and a lot of mobile phones apparently have a FM radio by default, but aren't turned on. So when internet breaks down you will not be able to listen to emergency broadcasts.
http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2015/04/16/400178385/the-hidden-fm-radio-inside-your-pocket-and-why-you-cant-use-it

I know I'm carrying off topic here, but as far as I understand (and you noted): for emergency purposes, things are being cut away that can't be replaced by more fancy solutions that might not work during an emergency.

You can build a radio by just coiling a copper wire and add a form of amplification for the audible sound output (a plastic pipe could be enough).
With that you can make it work even under the most dire of emergencies (unless their is radio interference, but that's really the only limitation).

It genuinely scares me a little that all the fancy new shiny stuff I like and enjoy so much can have such a mayor negative impact on life as soon as they start to fail.
The bottom line would be that like with these emergency broadcasting services a person wouldn't like it very much when their fancy Google Nest alarm system keeps buzzing while their is no problem or might switch off during a fire because of a software failure.
Or that you couldn't enter your house, because the battery of your phone is dead and the automatic locks can not be opened with the key because your home automation system already shut the blinds after 22:00

But more on topic. Your point of view sounds very sensible.
I think the real foolhardy will keep using FM radios. Everyone else will switch to a smartphone or similar™, instead of switching to 'expensive' 'new' solutions that might be obsolete before they might even turn 3 years old (DAB, DAB+, satellite radio, etc).
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Carenath

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #7 on: 28.08.2015, 12:22:37 »

America has been experimenting with the proprietary IBOC ("HD Radio") system as a bridging technology (a digital stream on a sub carrier of a regular FM station) in some regions, but as far as I know that never really took off. So basically, the situation in the US is traditional FM (VHF) and AM (MW) stations for local and regional broadcast, and country-wide pay radio stations via satellite (Sirius XM). Satellite radio is virtually unknown in Europe, basically due to the fragmented market with a large number of languages to support and only few Pan-European stations. AM radio on medium wave has been almost completely shut down, it's successor Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) wasn't successful. FM radio is still going strong. Since the 3m broadcast radio band is rather crowded in densely populated areas, and more and more stations asking for bandwidth, a decision has been made by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to migrate to digital radio. The first iteration was DAB ("Digital Audio Broadcasting"), a bunch of multiplexed MPEG1 MP2 encoded audio streams, modulated as COFDM, which allows single-frequency networks and reliable mobile reception. It has been phased out recently and replaced with DAB+, which uses the MPEG4 HE AAC v2 audio codec and adds Forward Error Correction. Due to the more efficient compression a DAB+ multiplex can have up to twice the number of DAB streams. Needless to say a DAB+ signal cannot be decoded by a DAB receiver, it requires new equipment. The frequencies used are in the VHF III band (a former analogue TV area) and for local stations in the L band, so it doesn't clash with traditional FM radio. IBOC, in contrast, requires the double bandwidth on the already crowded FM band for each multiplex.
There is also the different licencing structures in place and less spectrum available to operate DAB within those constraints, namely, that every FM station would want its own mux to maintain control of the transmission infrastructure. The setup in the UK highlights why giving up that control is bad for radio. DRM+ would be a better fit and would reuse the existing 3m band if desired but FM is cheap, doesn't require expensive equipment or patent fees to be paid and has ubiquitous coverage in most countries.

IBOC only works at all because the FCC allocates more bandwidth per station, ~200kHz vs ~100kHz here, so they have the space that we do not. Even then, it is prone to causing interference to neighbouring stations and isn't flawless.

The whole thing is probably going to fail like the DVB-T (our equivalent of ATSC) disaster. They replaced analogue TV with it here, but almost everyone is on cable or satellite anyway, and except for some metropolitan areas only public television is available, as the commercial broadcasters plainly refuse to pay for distribution unless they can go pay TV (which will be DVB-T2, rendering all DVB-T receivers worthless...)
Forcing broadcasters to use other systems like Satellite or Cable isn't practical; cable isn't a thing outside the cities and large towns, Satellite is expensive for broadcasters, people have a reasonable right to basic TV for news etc. Freeing up that spectrum for better things was a good idea, so all in, I would not consider DVB a disaster per se. The situations with commercial broadcasters is a government problem, if I previously ran my own station with my own gear, but now I am forced to pay a lot of money to a monopoly like Arquiva, then of course I won't be happy if I cannot pass that cost to the viewers.

In the meantime, Internet access via mobile phone has become affordable and available almost anywhere, G4/LTE is stable even at fast Autobahn speeds, so Internet radio will likely render DAB+ obsolete before it becomes available everywhere. Traffic information is the main reason why drivers in Germany (and other European countries) listen to broadcast radio. You can get traffic information from Google Maps or as a subscription service from other vendors via Internet now. This will obsolete broadcast radio before DAB+ covers the same area as FM radio nowadays.
As much as I love internet streaming as a means of avoiding corrupt licencing and regulations that encumber traditional FM the issue is bandwidth. Cellular networks are not as efficient at pushing content compared with traditional broadcast systems and probably never will be. As well as that, mobile telecoms don't like data users that much. Costs are coming down but let me know when Telekom starts offering 1GB+ data caps.

As for Norway, only the public broadcaster is closing FM services, other stations are not obliged to migrate.
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MafunDi

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Re: "Digital Radio" (DAB) to replace FM Broadcast?
« Reply #8 on: 23.11.2015, 09:01:22 »

Living in a country now that has a very well build DAB+ infrastructure (switzerland) and driving a car with DAB+ reciever for some years now I can say, it works quiet nice. The coverage with an adequate antenna is surprisingly high and the power of the transmitters can be reduced because of better recievers and fault correction. Moreover, the amount of available stations is bigger and the distorions with overlapping frequencies is gone, because you can send the same bouquet from multiple sites on the same frequency and have big distances between that frequency being reused.
Still the network needs to be expanded. An idea like replacing such a big system as FM transmission requires a big, brave step, not some small test transmitters that give the end user the experience of bad coverage/reliability and only few stations.
The only main downside for DAB+ is the compression - no matter what you do, 96kbps mpeg4 audio stream still has noticable artefacts. But much more birlliant high frequencies - FM broadcast technically only goes up to about 15 kHz (19 kHz is the pilot frequency for stereo sync, 38 for RDS and filters are normally not to steep (Butterworth 1st or 2nd order) ) and the channel separation is much better. (FM Stereo was a really smart system back then, but has its ups and downs).
What I would suggest is moving all the stations to DAB+, especially private ones (on what process whatsoever) and have the two or three big national stations still provide on FM/UKW, too.
Some countries are already mentioning when they want to switch of FM broadcasts, but I don't think it will happen to fast. I guess aroung 2030 it might happen, we will see, so do not worry, as of Berlin, we have both:
3 well used DAB bouquets ( http://ukwtv.de/cms/deutschland-dab/berlin-brandenburg-dab.html ) and many FM stations ( http://ukwtv.de/cms/deutschland/berlin-brandenburg.html , some of them in brandenburg, take care! mostly only berlin located transmission sites are recievable well). If you happen to come from the US and bring an FM reciever, do not wonder why your radio might sound "less clear" here. FM transmission is using a preemphasis (lift the high frequencies at transmission side and lower them in the reciever) and the used value differs in Europe (we use 50us, US does 75, http://claessonedwards.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=89 ).

Have fun exploring the local radio world at your next EF! :3

Best lion greetings
MafunDi
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