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Small Scale DAB: One year on, driving technological advancements

A year after Ofcom first announced the winning applicants in a trial of "small scale DAB", the new independent operators have started to outdo existing operators with technological advancement on the platform.

Small scale DAB was devised as a more affordable way for smaller stations to launch a DAB digital radio service across smaller geographical areas than traditional DAB services. In June 2015, Ofcom revealed who would be part of the trial, giving new, small operators in places including Glasgow, London, Manchester, Norwich and Portsmouth the chance to run a so-called DAB 'minimux'.

Already the signs are that the new entrants to the world of DAB are shaking up the status quo: two of the operators - Niocast Digital in Manchester and Solent Wireless serving Portsmouth have led the way in adopting the newer DAB+ standard, with half or just over half of all services on their multiplexes now using the standard. Compare that to the multiplexes operated by the big radio groups, where original flavour DAB with mono sound still rules the roost, and that's despite the ever growing number of devices that can now handle DAB+ - now a common standard in most countries that use DAB for terrestrial radio services.

Whereas traditional operators have tended to fill their multiplexes with mono offshoots of their services in original flavour DAB, the new smaller operators utilising DAB+ mostly broadcast in stereo and can still save on DAB distribution costs - thanks to lower bandwidth requirements - opening the door to DAB for more stations.

Now, an increasing number of services using small scale DAB services have started to activate slideshows. A common feature on DAB in other countries, slideshows allow users of DAB devices with a suitable display, including the DAB compatible LG Stylus 2 and many in-car systems, to see additional information.

The Slideshow function can be used to show album art, programme information, news or just an enhanced station logo image. Previously only available on Heart and Capital on London DAB, DAB slideshow has been introduced on Indulgence on the Solent Wireless DAB multiplex, The Breeze on the Bristol minimux and is available on Angel via the Aldershot, Birmingham and Norwich minimuxes. Ash Elford from Solent Wireless confirmed they're working on making slideshows available on other services on the multiplex in due course.

Originally, the small scale DAB trials were due to come to an end now. But given their success, Ofcom has extended the trials for another two years and it's looking likely that these multiplexes will in time become a permanent fixture in the UK's DAB landscape once the legal licensing technicalities are sorted out.

Despite the small coverage offered by these services and the many niche services being carried, the technological advancement offered by these trials: making use of newer technology to make DAB distribution more affordable, maximising the use of DAB radio displays and providing listeners with more than just the usual radio content recycled under the "Extra" banner, small scale DAB is providing the platform with a much needed boost from the grassroots of radio.