Is DAB the future or already part of the past for Thai Radio Broadcasting?

Video killed the radio star but TV might bring him back

Earlier this month, a delegation from Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) visited the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) to learn how they are progressing, in what could be the first country, to officially switch off the FM net in 2017 in favor of digital radio.

Thailand itself, is also well on its road to digitize the Thai radio industry. NBTC is hoping to sell thousands of licenses for digital radio, as early as 2015. The problem that Thailand is struggling with today is the huge amount of radio stations available in the country with thousands of small local radio stations.

Many of these stations are causing interference with the frequencies of the larger commercial and public radio stations, broadcasting on the FM network. To solve this problem Thailand would like to move all the commercial and public radio stations onto a digital network, while the local radio stations could continue to use the FM network.

Col. Dr. Natee Sukonrat, chairman NBTC told the Norwegian newsite, Kampajne that radio used to be very popular in Thailand but has seen a decline over the recent years, due to the lack of quality in the FM network, and it was believed that the transition to digital would make radio popular again.

Norway, Denmark and Sweden same same but different

One of the radio experts the Thai delegation met in Oslo was Jørn Erik Jensen, who led the set-up of the first 24-hour DAB channel back in 1995. Mr. Jensen is also a member of the WorldDMB Steering Board, which promotes DAB/ DAB+ as digital radio standard.

Although, Mr Jensen was impressed with the progress in Thailand he was also wary.

“They may take three steps forward but will have to go one step back, as they will be unable to predict the problems they will encounter. I think they have not seen all the practical issues that they will need to solve. In order to introduce DAB in a country, you need the whole industry to work together, and both commercial and public broadcasters must be perfectly aligned. This is the reason behind the success of DAB+ in Norway that the stakeholders, have been working together all the way, while in Denmark they have been in their respective camps and have not succeeded” Jørn Erik Jensen told Kampanje.

He is optimistic, but also a little hesitant when it comes to the issue of Thailand’s digitalization.

“It is going to be exciting to follow, but it is wise to be cautious. I am wary of being over optimistic because I have seen so many setbacks. In Sweden, for example, they started in 1995 as well, but then they took a step back and questioned whether it was DAB, which should be standard”.

29-year old technology

Probably a wise choice from Sweden, questioning, if DAB or DAB+ should be the standard. After all DAB was first pioneered at the Institut für Rundfunktechnik in Munich, Germany as far back as 1981 and enrolled under the wings of Europe-wide Eureka 147 research project. In comparison MS-DOS and the first IBM PC was also invented in 1981, while the CD-ROM saw its first laser 3 years later and the mobile phone rang in 7 years later.

Independent radio analyst Grant Goddard told the BBC back in 2010 in the article “The long, slow birth of DAB radio” that DAB’s time may have passed before it even arrived, with other forms of digital technology – allowing listeners to access radio on their laptops and phones.

Similar to Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the BBC launched digital radio service back in 1995 while DAB Radio sets was not commercially available until 1999. The article 11-years later on BBC highlights the news that a push is underway to get UK listeners to switch from analogue to DAB digital radio, but that the technology is almost 30 years old.

Back then, figures from Rajar showed that, in March 2010, 24% of all UK radio listening was digital, compared with 66% on AM or FM radio, while the remaining 10% listened to radio via the internet, digital television and other outlets.

Digital TV and Digital Radio

When Thailand decided to introduce digital TV, they did the right thing, and leapfrogged directly to the DVB-T2 standard. So the question is why not do the same with radio?

As mentioned in the whitepaper “Digital TV in Thailand – Think inside the box” The DVB-T2 Lite Profile is also highly suitable for digital radio in place of old technology like DAB & DAB+.

DVB-T2 Lite provides a three times increase in capacity compared to the DAB/DAB+ standard under the same broadcasting conditions. It is also better for indoor reception and less sensitive to impulse noise, as well as being better suited for in-car reception.

The Swedish Government has committed to digital radio via DVB-T2 instead of DAB+, and the German public service broadcaster, ARD is considering doing the same. It is not only countries in DAB/DAB+ home turf who is moving on, Doordarshan, the Indian public service broadcaster has also seen the benefits and decided to use DVB-T2 | T2 Lite for Digital Radio Broadcasting.

With the introduction of DAB+, another chapter was added to the already sizeable chunk of DAB broadcasting history. It seems however likely that DAB+ is not the future of radio broadcasting but already part of the past.

Benefit for all stakeholders

With NBTC currently rolling out digital TV in Thailand, it would make a lot more sense using DVB-T2 for digital radio as well. Not only due to the cost/benefit of transmissions and quality/capacity of T2 Lite over DAB DAB+, but for the whole ecosystem.

Device manufactures, who is using the DVB-T2 1.3.1 version, where the T2 Lite profile is already available, can use the same, for both set-top boxes, as well as digital radios and accessories, and thereby lower their costs and pricing, which in return provides the consumers with cheaper options.

Furthermore, once digital radio is introduced in Thailand, consumers who have already purchased equipment with the DVB-T2 version mentioned above, will be able to enjoy radio without having to purchase, yet another box, and thus, the radio-stations would have listeners available from day one, instead of having to go through months of missing advertising opportunities.

NBTC itself could also benefit, as the coupons for the 22 million Thai household, they are giving away to make sure everyone will be able to be part of the digital TV era, could include digital radio.

I would say, it seems that DAB is part of the past, right up there with Digital Audio Cassettes (DAT), Betacam and NMT Mobile phones.

It is noticeable that no common international initiative exist regarding DAB+ as a replacement for AM / FM and after 20 years, DAB still hasn’t managed to gain noticeable market shares and devices sales except in a few countries. DAB is primarily a “European project” and other regions of the world have, or are sourcing for solutions, which suits their needs better.

Author: Allan Rasmussen
Managing director at Yozzo. Allan is a MVNA/MVNE/MVNO specialist with hands-on experience from more than 60 projects in both competitive and greenfield markets. His expertise includes business case development, execution, launch and growth strategies. Advisor and consultant to mobile network operators, MVNA, MVNE, MVNO, National Regulatory Authorities, Government Agencies, Broadcast Companies, TMT Industry Associations, Innovation and Investment Banks.

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