The wheels turn slow, but things seem to have started moving at Ofcom with regard to what they variously call either “Low-Cost DAB” or latterly “Small Scale DAB”. One wonders if the new name is to pacify the incumbent DAB multiplex operators who surely must have been a bit jittery by the original “low cost” name? Anyway Ofcom published today a consultation on new short-term licences for small-scale DAB Trials. Is that a trial of small-scale DAB, or a trial of DAB that is small in scale? Generally the idea is to find a digital solution that addresses the needs to small-scale and community radio broadcasters in the UK.
Currently such broadcasters find it difficult to get on DAB due to the huge expense – resulting in a bizarre situation where there is demand, but many commercial Mux’s are running significantly below maximum capacity. Cynics will say this is due to the lack of competition for DAB transmission services in the UK, although partly it is as a result of the structure of the DAB industry. Also the technology requires a collection of radio services to be broadcast on one frequency instead of one service, one frequency like for FM. Whilst this does not explain the expense (surely sharing transmission should reduce costs?), it does explain the need for “transmission middle-men” – the Mux operators.
The Ofcom trial, and others like the Total Broadcast DAB trial in Ireland have demonstrated that it is possible to provide DAB services for significantly lower cost that existing UK DAB Mux providers.
This consultation will give interested parties an opportunity to shape the future of DAB in the UK. No doubt it will also give the DAB incumbents an opportunity to create obstacles to creating viable competition to their lucrative businesses!