UK broadcast regulator and licensing body Ofcom moved on with its plans for a new national DAB network on 1 July by advertising for companies to run the proposed service. This is intended to create at least ten more digital radio stations nationwide, with up to 30 percent of the multiplex's capacity available for services wanting to use DAB+.
Last week (15 July) Arqiva, which provides the current DAB transmission infrastructure for both the BBC and commercial broadcasters and owns the existing national Digital One multiplex, announced it was working with two of the UK's biggest media organisations to bid for the second network licence. UTV Media owns 13 regional stations and the national talkSPORT service, while Bauer Media has a large portfolio of radio services that includes the Magic, KISS and Absolute brands.
The consortium is already inviting other operators to contact them if they are interested in running stations on the multiplex. Commenting on the bid, Steve Holebrook, managing director of terrestrial broadcast at Arqiva (pictured), said, "Radio’s future is undoubtedly digital and we are delighted to be working with Bauer and UTV to bid for the second national DAB multiplex licence which will help to realise that digital future."
In terms of the technical aspects of building and sustaining a new digital radio network, Kevin Moroney, commercial director of regulated business in the terrestrial broadcast department of Arqiva, said it could be the biggest expansion in listener choice since 1999, when the first national multiplex was launched. "Arqiva is well positioned to help stakeholders interested in bidding for the licence," he commented." We already provide the infrastructure for the two existing national multiplexes - the BBC's and Digital One's. Arqiva's estate of tall towers and masts across the country is critical to delivering this type of service cost effectively. As Ofcom has set out in its advert, we'll be working within the processes defined at the time of Arqiva's merger with NGW [National Grid Wireless, acquired in 2007], which are designed to offer customers cost effective access to Arqiva's infrastructure."
Speaking before the Arqiva-Bauer-UTV bid was announced, Moroney said some towers and antennas used for the BBC and Digital One can be reused for the next national multiplex, adding that a challenge for people bidding is to design a network and plan its roll-out in ways that meet Ofcom's requirement.
Ofcom included a section on DAB+ in its recently published Broadcast Digital Radio Technical Codes and Guidance Consultation, stating that up to 30 percent of the new multiplex would be capable of supporting the enhanced digital radio coding system. "That would offer broadcasters the chance to launch new digital stations either at higher audio quality or at a lower cost," Moroney observes.