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Is 5G a threat to DAB?

Fears that another change in digital broadcasting will put consumers and industry off investing in digital radio.

Following the news that 5G Broadcasting (FeMBMS*) is being tested for the first time this autumn in parts of southern Bavaria, industry chiefs have been keen to point out that this doesn't mean the end of DAB digital radio services.

It is envisaged that FeMBMS will be able to be used to provide television and radio services to traditional TVs, as well as to smartphones, tablets and other 5G devices that come on the market in the future.

Speaking at an industry event in Austria last week, Helwin Lesch, the Director of Distribution at Bavaria's public service broadcaster BR, said "The new 5G Broadcasting mode FeMBMS will not replace the digital terrestrial radio DAB+." Although theoretically radio broadcasting could also be broadcast on the data stream, the 5G Broadcasting mode will "come primarily for video."

Industry leaders had been debating if DAB is, in fact, an intermediary technology - a stepping stone between FM and IP-radio. Concerns were voiced that if DAB is seen as a temporary stepping stone, it will put off industry, who may fear they will not receive a return on their investments and be a deterrent to consumers.

Back in the UK, in the past week, the BBC's Chief Technology Officer Matthew Postgate repeated his support of keeping FM on-air, raising fears of a drop in listeners if FM was axed. The BBC is commited to a hybrid of FM, DAB and IP-radio during the charter period.

At the same time, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed it was preparing to make further announcements about radio's digital transition in 2019. At the Drive2Digital industry event in London, the industry was urged to continue its collaboration, with Digital Minister Margot James urging delegates that there needed to be "a strong commitment to a collective vision for the future".

Sources: Horizont Austria (in German) | 5G Broadcasting tests start (a516digital) | BBC's Chief Technology Officer on the risks of turning off FM (BBC Blog post) | Industry urged to collaborate on digital transition (a516digital)

*FeMBMS: Further evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service


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