The long road to DAB+


Jørn Jensen, president of the WorldDMB organisation, was in Johannesburg recently to
conduct a workshop on DAB+, a digital audio broadcasting standard.

DAB+ is the second generation of the DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) standard, which
was initiated as a research project in Europe in the 1980s. Now widely used in Europe
and increasingly in South East Asia and Indonesia, DAB+ has been selected for South
Africa with 18 slots allocated in the VHF band as part of the country’s migration to
digital radio.

The DAB+ workshop held in Johannesburg in July was organised in conjunction with the
South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the National Association of
Broadcasters (NAB) and the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association

In an exclusive interview with Screen Africa, Jørn Jensen explained that DAB and DAB+
are now governed by the WorldDMB (World Digital Multimedia Broadcasting)
organisation, as both standards incorporate visual elements.

“DAB and DAB+ are hosted in Band 3 of the radio frequency spectrum, where VHF is
situated. Band 1 is allocated to AM radio, Band 2 is FM radio, and Bands 4 and 5 are for
digital television.

“In the late 1980s the European Union (EU) assigned a group of experts to create
standards for radio and TV. The outcome was DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) for
television and DAB for radio.

“In 1995 I created the first DAB station in Norway and it went on air on 1 June that
year. This was the first fully digital radio station in the world. The Nordic countries
adopted the DAB standard early on but the movement couldn’t gain momentum
elsewhere because DAB receivers were so expensive. At the beginning of 2000 there
was a launch in London for the first DAB radios priced at under £99. Today you can get
DAB radios for £25,’ said Jensen.

Small but big difference

As to the difference between DAB and DAB+, Jensen said: “There is really only a small
difference between the two standards. To use a simple analogy – if DAB is a standard
pizza, then DAB+ is a pizza with pepperoni added to it.

“However, in practice there is a big difference between the two standards for
broadcasters. DAB is mostly about how the broadcasters transmit the signals into cars.
You need a specific technology to ensure you don’t lose the binary code when
transmitting the signal through the airwaves.

“While the core of the two standards is the same, DAB+ is a more modern and efficient
codec than DAB. With the former you can compress the audio signal much more and
put 30 radio stations onto one multiplex. Currently DAB/DAB+ reaches about 500
million people around the world.’

SA context

According to Jensen, DAB was launched in 1999 in South Africa but only as a test
project due to the high cost of the receivers. South Africa’s DAB project then lay
dormant for several years until it was tested again, this time with IP.

Jensen continues: “DAB/DAB+ offers broadcasters a way of staying competitive in the
market. For instance, you can do slide shows and carousels and display sponsorships
on the receiver’s screen. Some receivers even have colour screens. DAB allows
broadcasters to provide better traffic and travel information.

“Broadcasters have been questioning whether radio will go IP. The answer is yes, but in
addition to IP radio we must have a broadcast backbone and a DAB+ backbone. Many
radio stations are already on apps,’ comments Jensen.

He described the Johannesburg workshop as “very well organised’ as in addition to
representatives from NAB, SABC and SADIBA, the Independent Communications
Authority of South Africa (ICASA), which regulates the broadcasting sector, was in

Experts were brought in from Europe and Australia for the workshop which covered the
following topics: transmission methods; an international market update of DAB/DAB+
around the world; an overview of regulatory frameworks from territories that have rolled
out DAB+; an overview on multi-channeling and adding value for listeners, advertisers
and broadcasters; DAB+ digital radio receivers available for use on DAB+ network for
table top, car, handheld, visual traffic and travel information in-vehicle; lessons learned
from real-world planning; deployment and operation of digital radio networks; why
DAB+ is more green and cost effective than analogue; and multiplex network design
considerations and antenna systems for DAB+.

In conclusion Jensen stressed that the most important thing for DAB+ roll out in South
Africa is to create a local organisation that would pull the whole project together. This
industry body should include shops that sell DAB+ receivers, as well as the
manufacturers thereof.

“DAB+ is particularly suitable for South Africa as you could broadcast all 11 languages,
and you could cater for people with disability and use the medium for educational
purposes. Another reason why DAB+ is ideal for South Africa is because there are no
FM frequencies left. If South Africa has one DAB+ multiplex you could run 18 radio
stations off it.

“At WorldDMB, we always advise private and public stations to work together. Our
motto is: “Operate on the platform, compete on the content’. Broadcasters should
welcome competition because it makes them produce better content,’ stated Jensen.


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