'Fun' DAB+ test ends, but it's just the beginning for DAB+ in the UK
Fun Kids from Folder Media was made available on a trial basis from September 2014 to DAB listeners in North East Wales, West Cheshire and Liverpool, providing they had a next generation DAB+ set. The test ended on the 31st December.
The test aimed to measure listener response to the service, examine the implication of broadcasting a DAB and DAB+ service side-by-side and to observe reception differences around the edge of the broadcast area.
Unlike many previous DAB+ tests in the UK, listeners were actively encouraged to provide feedback to Folder Media about the DAB+ tests.
The test comes as the industry seeks to take advantage of the newer standard:
With radio stations charged a carriage fee based on the amount of bandwidth on the multiplex used by the station, DAB+ allows the same service to be broadcast at the same quality on lower bitrates, saving money, making the jump to digital more affordable for radio station operators, including community radio stations. It would also allow multiplex operators such as Arqiva and MuxCo, owner of the multiplex the test was conducted on, to fill small leftover parcels of local DAB capacity to smaller radio operators without the usual downsides of low bitrates.
The new standard also does away with some of the "bubbling mud" issues apparent on regular DAB in weak signal areas. DAB+ is also the terrestrial digital radio standard now being adopted by many countries around the world, so that many new radios now include DAB+ as standard.
As the number of radios that are compatible with DAB+ increase, Ofcom has stated that some of the capacity on the forthcoming second national commercial DAB multiplex ("Digital 2") can be reserved for such DAB+ services, but what exactly might launch in DAB+ will depend on who wins the coveted Digital 2 licence.
The introduction of DAB+ in the UK was broadly welcomed by the UK radio industry when Ofcom consulted about the matter last spring.
Cautious approach to permitting DAB+ stations
With large numbers of non-DAB+ sets still in circulation, Ofcom is holding back from allowing a large scale switch to the newer standard, restricting DAB+ usage to 30% of the bandwidth of the Digital 2 multiplex. Ofcom however agreed in July that the use of DAB+ on existing local and national DAB multiplexes would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
In making its decision on revising the necessary technical codes, Ofcom stated that it, when approached by a multiplex operator, would need "to take account of the impact of the change on listeners and will consider matters such as the uptake of compatible receivers, whether the service is an existing service or is new to the multiplex, the range of services available on the multiplex and any other relevant factors at the time."