100s of local digital radio stations a possibility after successful Ofcom trials

Hundreds of local digital radio stations could start broadcasting across the UK following the conclusion of a trial of new technology behind 10 DAB 'minimuxes' across the country.

Previously, smaller stations have broadcast on analogue AM and FM, but have been held back by the higher cost of broadcasting on the UK's Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio platform.

But a new technique, known as 'small-scale DAB', allows local and community stations to hit the airwaves using freely-available software and equipment costing from £9,000. Small-scale DAB in the UK was pioneered by an Ofcom engineer, Rashid Mustapha, who initially tested the concept by installing a digital radio transmitter on a Brighton roof-top.

Ofcom has been testing small-scale DAB since June 2015, with 70 local stations broadcasting on trial minimux licences around the UK, including in Glasgow, London, Manchester and Portsmouth. The minimuxes have attracted a diverse range of niche stations, and led the way in the deployment of the newer DAB+ standard, some more than half of stations on some multiplexes using the newer standard for digital radio.

The regulator has today confirmed in a report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that the trials have been a success and confirmed that additional space in the airwaves have been identified that could support a nationwide deployment of small-scale DAB, using frequencies previously used by business radio.

Neil Stock, Ofcom's Director of Broadcast Licensing, said:
"This technology could open up a new, local dimension in digital radio. We're confident that a UK wide roll-out of these stations would be technically possible and commercially viable. 
"Our trials have enabled groups of community and local commercial radio stations to work together, enabling new stations to serve local communities right across the UK."

The Government will now consider the findings of the report, and Ofcom is ready to work with it on any necessary steps to enable small-scale DAB stations to be licensed permanently. Overseas, stations using the technology are now on air in Switzerland and France. Other regulators in Europe have approached Ofcom to express their interest in using the same approach, which suggests that small-scale DAB could be deployed in many other countries.

  • Locations where small-scale DAB could be licensed are outlined in this document. (Link to Ofcom website)

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