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A big plus for second generation DAB

As DAB+ spreads across the European mainland, UK broadcast regulator Ofcom consults on proposals to upgrade to the enhanced digital radio format.

Radio broadcasters in Europe are continuing to adopt DAB+ for digital transmissions or are considering making the move from its predecessor. New multiplexes are planned for Germany, while Monaco has started testing the format and Denmark will move from DAB+ between 2016 and 2018.

In the UK Ofcom, which regulates and licenses radio broadcasting, has included a section on alternative audio coding in the form of DAB+ in its current Broadcast Digital Radio Technical Codes and Guidance Consultation on updates and amendments for transmission.

These were last revised in 2006 and while Ofcom says it tries to regulate “only where necessary”, it observes that “there have been changes in both technology and the landscape of the radio industry” since then. DAB+ is based on high efficiency advanced audio coding (HE-AAC), which is able to support stereo services at much lower bit rates than existing MPEG2-based DAB services.

In its 2007 consultation document The Future of Radio, Ofcom said a move to DAB+ “could be desirable if this was the future direction of DAB across the world”. Now that the enhanced format, which is also said to offer more robust reception and interactive capability, is being adopted in many European countries, in addition to other territories round the world, including Australia, the regulator is considering updating its Technical Codes to include DAB+.

Any introduction, it says, would have to be managed carefully but Ofcom is proposing to make part of the planned second national digital multiplex available for DAB+ operation, should any broadcasters need it, although this is not mandatory. It also wants the radio industry to see the importance of receivers being able to offer DAB+ so that consumer products are well prepared for any future transition from DAB. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 23 May.

Among the manufacturers preparing for the coexistence of DAB and DAB+ is Radioscape, which recently introduced the Tritium Audio Encoder (pictured). This offers up to four stereo inputs on one unit and is designed to take source input and send compatible DAB or DAB+ streams to the multiplex. As well as valid bit rates, sampling rates and digital radio codecs, the Tritium encoder also includes IP distribution over EDI (Electronic Data Interchange).

The rest of Europe has a headstart on the UK, with Bavaria Radio planning an additional 21 DAB+ multiplex transmitters by the end of 2015, Radio Monte Carlo Readiodiffusion in Monaco testing the format since the end of April and Denmark planning to have the foundations for it first DAB+ network in place during next year, ready for the start of a two year transition beginning in 2016.