The 80’s called, they want their DAB technology back

The 80’s called, they want their DAB technology back | Photo by Michael Walsh

It has been a year and a month since I wrote “Is DAB the future or already part of the past for Thai Radio Broadcasting?” Since then, interesting updates have taken place in other countries, and now, as Thailand’s national broadcast and telecom regulator (NBTC) once again has decided to open the door for their radio frequency plan, it is time to revisit reality.

The problem, which Thailand is struggling with today, is the huge amount of radio stations available in the country with thousands of small local radio stations. There are no precise count of community radio stations in Thailand. However, in 2009 more than 6,000 local community stations registered with NTC (former NBTC) to notify their intent to be on the air.

NBTC is looking to auction about 4,000 licenses for digital radio. The estimated final price of a commercial digital radio license would be around THB 100,000 (U$ 3,037). In addition, 10 licenses to provide network services to the prospective digital radio operators will also be granted.

In March 2013, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and NBTC jointly organized the “NBTC/ITU Workshop on Digital Radio Technologies”. The Workshop was supported by WorldDMB, which coincidentally is the lobby organization behind DAB/DAB+.

While on the topic of transparency, it is worth mentioning that NBTC, themselves is a member of WorldDMB, where most members consists of solution providers, broadcasters, manufacturers, network operators and OEMs. Secondly, it is noted that additional support to the workshop was provided by LS telcom, the company who NBTC has hired in 2015 to assist with Thailand’s radio frequency plan.

At the workshop Colonel Dr. Natee Sukonrat, Vice Chairman of NBTC, told Factum in it’s press release (Factum is bringing DAB+ to Thailand) “The NBTC has planned to deploy digital radio broadcasting next year and is now working with the ITU on roll-out roadmap.”

A year later (April 2014), a delegation from NBTC, visited the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) to learn how they are progressing, in what could be (back then) the first country in the world, to officially switch off the FM net in favor of digital radio.

Colonel Dr. Natee Sukonrat told the norwegian newspaper ”Kampajne” that Norway is ahead of other countries in the world, when it comes to talks about turning off the FM network and “We will bring back the experience gained here into the work of our policy in this area”.

September 2014, Peter Wallop from ITU presents “Thailand’s Roadmap for the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting” – Digital radio market & roadmap, which proposed a digital radio roadmap compromising a Plan A and B for short and long term respectively.

Plan A addressing the short term:

  • Launching Trial services in 2014
  • DAB+ in VHF Band III
  • 40-50 services in 10 most populated cities (with population target of 40%)
  • Preparing and assigning regular licenses.

Plan B addressing the long term:

  • Regular licensing at the moment when VHF Band III analogue switch off is known (and DAB uptake is sufficient)
  • Matching demand and supply across all available platforms
  • Radio analogue switch off (after BMP planning horizon 2012-16)
DVB-T2 Lite vs. DAB+ for Digital Radio

At Thailand’s Engineering Expo 2014, Mr. Kenneth Wenzel from Open Channel in Denmark shared the experiences gained, from being the world’s first to deploy and trial digital radio based on the new DVB-T2 profile T2-Base-Lite.

The presentation proved the superiority and robustness of T2 Lite for digital radio, instead of DAB+, which is widely regarded as obsolete today.

Thailand’s Engineering Expo 2014, Mr. Kenneth Wenzel from Open ChannelKenneth Wenzel, a member of The Danish Business Authority Spectrum Forum, The Danish Consumer Electronics Associations Technical ERFA-group – and CEO at Openchannel – had successfully carried out test and launch in 2012 of “the next generation of mobile TV and digital radio” on a so-called T2 Lite profile, which was introduced with the digital TV system DVB-T2.

Mr Wenzel started questioning the value of DAB and DAB+ as technology for digital radio transmission, and at Thailand’s Engineering Expo 2014, Mr. Wenzel shared the experiences gained, from deploying digital radio based on the DVB-T2 profile: T2-Base-Lite.

What is T2 Lite?

T2-Lite is a “light” version of the Digital TV standard, DVB-T2 introduced as a subset of DVB-T2 in version 1.3.1. Features include low bitrates (peaking at 4Mbps per PLP) and short forward error correction frames (16k), which co-exist with coding rates to collectively offer a sharp reduction in receiver power use.

The aim of T2 Lite is to provide a robust platform for enhanced mobile device reception with lesser demand on CPU performance and power consumption, making it perfectly suitable for smartphones and tablets as well as TV’s and set-top boxes already on the market today.

DVB-T2 version 1.3.1 has three additional bandwidths: 1.7 MHz, 5 MHz and 10 MHz (besides the 6, 7 and 8 MHz). 1.7 MHz is the same frequency that Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) standard uses in VHF band III.

The significance of T2-Base-Lite for broadcasters, DTT operator and regulators, is that it removes the hurdles to commercial success with mobile DTT and radio broadcasting as you save the cost for building a new dedicated network for mobile TV and/or digital radio.

DVB-T2 Lite is, due to its significantly greater efficiency and multimedia flexibility, suitable for large‐scale digital radio broadcasting along with digital television.

Open Channel was one if the first in Europe to go on-air with DVB-T2 in 2010 and again in March 2012 they led the way, as the first in the world to air Television for mobile device and digital radio on the newly introduced T2 Lite profile in DVB-T2 version 1.3.1

In Mr. Kenneth Wenzel’s presentation, (also available below) his comparison between T2 Lite and DAB+ clearly shows that T2 Lite is a significantly better choice for digital radio, than DAB+ both in terms of cost/benefit as well as in quality/quantity.

Comparison between T2 Lite and DAB+

(Page 35 on the presentation)

A: If using the same propagation model as DAB+

• You get 3 times more capacity ~ 48 radios with T2 Lite but only 16 radios with DAB+

B: If using the same capacity as DAB+

• The broadcasting strength, with the same propagation model as DAB+, can be reduces 6 times with an equivalent reduction of the transmission costs with T2 Lite
• Or 6 times better broadcasting strength with significantly larger coverage using T2 Lite.

C: Or

• Double capacity ~ 36 radios and 2 times better broadcasting strength with an equivalent reduction of the transmission costs using T2 Lite compared with DAB+

Indoor/outdoor coverage T2 Lite vs. DAB+

Further comparison is available on page 38 and page 39 in the presentation, which shows a propagation map with T2 Lite and DAB+ coverage prediction from MUXCPH-3 | VHF Channel 9D. 520 Watt ERP with Dipol antenna at a height of 100 metres from the TDC radio tower at Borups Allé in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark. The T2 Lite coverage is not only larger than DAB+ on indoor reception, but has almost twice the coverage on outdoor reception.

T2 Lite with the same capacity as DAB+ | Portable indoor receptionT2 Lite with the same capacity as DAB+ Portable indoor reception

T2 Lite with the same capacity as DAB+ | Portable outdoor reception
T2 Lite with the same capacity as DAB+ Portable outdoor reception

Why Thailand should choose T2 Lite

Page 46, shows Thailand’s Digital Radio Roadmap DAB+ trial, which comprises Plan A for the short term and Plan B for the long term. Plan A was scheduled to launch trial services by the year-end 2014.

With the ITU proposed DAB+ trialWith the ITU proposed DAB+ trial

  • On plan B (DAB+) the number of radio per mux will be: 16
  • Capacity Kbit/s: 1.056 per MUX
  • Number of national radio will be: 64
  • Number of radio per area: 64
  • Number local radio: 2.496

On page 47, Kenneth Wenzel show the reason why Thailand should choose T2 Lite instead of DAB+, or at least run a T2 Lite trial in parallel to the DAB+ trial to compare and provide the best suited technology platform for Thailand´s digital radio.

With T2 LiteThailand T2 Lite trial

  • With DVB-T2 Lite the number of radio per mux will be: 48
  • Capacity Kbit/s: 3,201
  • Number of national radio will be: 192
  • Number of radio per area: 192
  • Number local radio: 7,488

Conclusion: With T2 Lite, Thailand will be able to add 192 national radio stations, and 7,488 local radio stations with a capacity of 3,201 Kbit/s per MUX, compared to DAB+ with just 64 national radio stations and 2.496 local radio stations and capacity of 1,056 Kbit/s per MUX.

T2 Lite around the world

In Thailand, we are already very familiar with DVB-T2, as we leapfrogged directly to DVB-T2 (second generation) instead of DVB-T (first generation). Therefore is makes sense to use the network already rolled out, instead of having to setup a second network just for radio. In addition, the market already has, and will continue to purchase DVB-T2 device, which means that using T2 Lite for radio, the consumers will be able to listen to T2 Lite radio right away as the set-top boxes, mobile phones, tablets, dongles, in-car entertainment T2 devices, etc. already support T2-Lite since version 1.3.1.

This will in return provide the radio station with potential listeners from the start, and not having to wait for consumers to purchase additional devices, as we learned the hard way from the lack of information regarding the Digital TV launch.

India-T2lite-TV-RadioIndia’s public broadcaster Doordarshan has also decided to broadcast digital radio with DVB-T2 Lite, and there are no plans to introduce DAB+ in India.

Doordarshan is currently testing:

Six TV channels and four radio channels in New Delhi and will target mobile phones using T2-Lite technology.

CEO Jawhar Sircar said that the content for the service would begin with the free-to-air channels

T2 Lite is not only the choice in India – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy and South Africa are active with T2 Lite.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) DR Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zimbabwe has adopted DVB-T2 including T2-Lite trials.

Denmark raise doubt on DAB+

In Denmark one of the countries frequently mentioned as a DAB leading country, the Musicians’ Rights Organization Koda and Gramex as well as the privately owned, license financed, public service channel Radio 24syv and Denmark’s largest commercial radio group SBS Discovery, which has six radio channels, has asked the minister of culture to pull the emergency brake on DAB+.

They believe it is too expensive to switch to DAB+, which is already outdated and overtaken by new distribution technologies and consumer habits, changing rapidly from FM and DAB listening, to radio via the internet on tablets, smartphones, and computers. The group believe this raise reasonable doubt on whether DAB+ remains a sensible investment – for radio stations, rights-holders and last but not least, consumers.

The politicians in Denmark have realized the heavy opposition by major broadcasters and music copyright organizations for a premature FM switch-off and the political agreement in the Parliament now includes a major study of listening and technical developments, including the Internet and new broadcast systems (as DVB-T2 Lite which is tested in Copenhagen). Also developments after the 700 MHz band has been transferred from broadcasters to mobile broadband operators will be observed.

DAB was introduced in Denmark in 2002 and the country was preparing for a DAB+ upgrade. However with the political decision and with the slow pace of market development, it is forecast that an FM switch-off will be delayed many years – or never implemented.

In general, an FM switch-off in the Nordic countries seems more far off than ever.

DAB listening today is measured at:

  • 17 % in Denmark,
  • 19 % in Norway
  • Less than 1 % in Sweden and;
  • Finland opted out of DAB already 2005.
Sweden says TV technology better and cheaper than DAB+

In Sweden, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) shared their views in the Swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter” December 3 2014, saying that today’s TV technology instead of DAB+ would be better and cheaper for the consumers.

“DAB+, which is proposed to replace the FM network, has several serious technical flaws especially the combination of a low number of bits per second together with a signal transfer, inefficient for sound. To get a sound quality that is considered as the minimum acceptable quality, you cannot transmit the number of radio stations that DAB+ claims.

It is worrying that Sweden is expanding the digital TV platforms DVB-T and DVB-T2 without using these for radio distribution as well. Using technology for both television and radio must be considered as a cost effective option.

Increased transmission capacity, in combination with the rapidly declining need of bandwidth to obtain same quality of sound, means that mobile networks together with fiber connections will work significantly better for audio distribution.

In light of this, it is highly questionable why the country should invest such significant amounts in yet another stand-alone digital radio network, especially if based on DAB+, which is already regarded as obsolete today. We believe consumer needs for digital radio broadcasting can be meet via IP access over fiber or mobile broadband, especially together with the use of DVB-T2.”

South Africa

In South Africa, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) states that the decision not to make a determination on the switch off of AM and/or FM signals must be endorsed, and that the licensing of DRM and DAB services must be facilitated in parallel.

Ireland: FM radio switch-off won’t be happening any time soon

In Ireland FM radio switch-off won’t be happening any time soon, “The phasing out of FM radio in Ireland is not under consideration,” a spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources told Siliconrepublic.com. “While there are no plans at present to roll out DAB services on a national basis, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland will continue to monitor and consider the potential for the development of digital radio in Ireland.”

Thailand

Back to Thailand again. The NBTC has now received LS telcom’s paper on Thailand’s radio frequency plan 2015. Sadly, the headline only has the wording DAB+, FM and AM on the cover of the LS telcom paper, which indicates two choices – what we have already, FM/AM or DAB+.

It is noticeable that no common international initiative exist regarding DAB+ as a replacement for FM/AM and after 20 years, DAB still hasn’t managed to gain noticeable market shares and device 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. If the choice in Thailand are limited between DAB+ and FM, we should stick to FM, no need to spend huge amount of resources building out an obsolete technology, subsiding devices, only to see them being thrown into the pile of cassette recorders and Betamax VCR’s.

NBTC is inviting all to participate in public hearing regarding the subject

DVB-T2 Lite for Digital Radio by Kenneth Wenzel

References

Major risks in transfer to digital radio | Swedish National Audit Office
http://www.riksrevisionen.se/PageFiles/22056/summary_2015_05.pdf

Thailand’s Roadmap for the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting | Digital radio market & roadmap | Peter Wallop, ITU | 22 September 2014 | https://broadcast.nbtc.go.th/data/academic/file/571100000004.pdf

The long, slow birth of DAB radio | BBC
http://www.bbc.com/news/10569231

DVB-T2 ETSI EN 302 755 V1.3.1 | ETSI
http://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_en/302700_302799/302755/01.03.01_40/en_302755v010301o.pdf

Author: Allan Rasmussen
Managing director at Yozzo. Allan’s expertise includes the development and execution of growth strategies, market insights, trends and opportunities, new business models and strategies
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