SA gears up for digital radio - TechCentral

SA gears up for digital radio

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South Africa still hasn’t switched on commercial digital terrestrial television broadcasts, but that isn’t holding back the broadcasting industry from running trials to test digital radio broadcasts based on Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB+) and Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) with a view to launching commercial services in the coming years.

DAB+ is effectively a replacement for the analogue FM band, while DRM is effectively meant to supplant AM and shortwave radio while offering FM-comparable audio quality.

Digital radio shouldn’t be confused with Internet radio, which is streamed online, usually through a website or smartphone application.

The Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (Sadiba), the National Association of Broadcasters and a DAB+ Trial Working Group are running digital radio trials on DAB+. The trial covers Johannesburg and Pretoria and includes 40 public, commercial and community radio stations.

Working group chair Dave Cherry says South Africa has taken note of the numerous success stories on the use of DAB+, especially in Australia with its vast landscape.

There are many advantages to using DAB+, cost-saving being key among them. “If the public broadcaster had 18 radio stations, it would need 18 licences and 18 transmitters under the current system. With DAB+, just one transmitter would be needed to broadcast 18 stations,” says Cherry.

Sentech agreed to be the signal distributor for the trial and provide the required technical expertise, while the SABC agreed to apply for the trial licence. The trial, which commenced on 3 November 2014, covers a total of 21 185sq km and a population of 10,7m people. More audio services were added in February. Audio quality ranges from 56kbit/s to 128kbit/s are being tested.

Sentech senior executive for technology Leago Takalani says the company will work with the broadcasting industry to develop a regulatory framework and commercial model for digital radio in South Africa.

“The trial will run up until October at the end of which we will provide a test report to the regulator,” Takalani says.

Bernie O'Neill

Bernie O’Neill

Bernie O’Neill, project director at WorldDMB, the global forum tasked with overseeing the promotion and implementation of digital broadcast radio, says broadcasters across Europe and Asia-Pacific have adopted the DAB, DAB+ and Digital Multimedia Broadcasting standards promoted by the organisation. North and South America uses different standards.

She says that since 2004, 33m DAB and DAB+ receivers have been sold, with over 400 consumer devices now available. “The automotive sector is ready with over 63% of cars in Norway and 60% of cars in UK fitted with DAB+ technology,” O’Neill says.

Indeed, Norway plans to have a full digital switchover by 2017, switching off FM broadcasts by then. Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany are among the countries that have committed to digital radio, with coverage in those markets ranging from 45% to 95%.

O’Neill says that the benefits to listeners include improved sound quality and a wider choice of stations. For broadcasters, it ensures a highly efficient distribution system and allows radio groups to develop their portfolio of offerings, extend geographic coverage and deepen user experience. They can also expect to reduce transmission costs in the long run. O’Neill says it also allows for “pop-up stations”, too, for emergencies or special events, such as sports festivals.

South Africa is also testing DRM, the technology standard used for mediumwave and shortwave transmissions.

Christian radio station Radio Pulpit has been conducting DRM trials since July 2014. These are set to end this July. Takalani confirms that the DRM and DAB+ platforms will coexist in South Africa.  — © 2015 NewsCentral Media

7 Comments

  1. Too bad that Digital Satellite Radio, Worldspace, died many years ago. The receivers were very portable, the dishes not bigger than a large handpalm and easy to align. Sound quality similar as a CD. And prices had come down to less than R 500.
    Maybe the system was too advanced to be adopted by African governments. It remained a purely commercial venture, and died clearly because of lack of support.

  2. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    Worldspace was undoubtedly ahead of its time for the targeted market.

    >>The receivers were very portable, the dishes not bigger than a large handpalm and easy to align.

    Portable yes… but without mobility since you would always have to align to the satellite each time you moved and you required line-of-sight through a nearby window when indoors; and that’s not how we’re used to consuming radio not to mention the subscription fee when radio services are mostly consumed free.

    My experiences with the previous DAB pilots delivered a much better experience with all the projects that we tested between the two platforms and so it came as no surprise to see Worldspace fail… don’t have any experience of the DAB+ signal though;

    >> The trial, which commenced on 3 November 2014, covers a total of 21 185sq km and a population of 10,7m people. More audio services were added in February. Audio quality ranges from 56kbit/s to 128kbit/s are being tested.

    Heard about this trial last year and haven’t been able to pick-up any DAB+ stations. The last time I picked up signals on the pilot frequency was with the MobileTV trial unless they are using a different frequency from the one that has been dedicated for such pilots but all my DAB/DAB+/DMB receivers scan across all frequencies. They may have DRM running though – who knows?

  3. You are right of course that you needed to place the small dish of the Worldspace radio near a window, the signal could pass through glass, but not through walls. But you could use an extension cord from the dish. At least it worked all over Africa, while DAB will only work, I guess in more urban areas, where you you have now good coverage of FM stations. Worldspace could be regarded is the digital replacement of the old shortwave radio, with almost global reception. Initially it had many international stations as CNN, BBC and RWN for free. You only had to pay for the music stations.
    Where I am staying, FM reception is very poor, and there is no terrestrial TV reception.

  4. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    >>while DAB will only work, I guess in more urban areas, where you you have now good coverage of FM stations.

    DAB/DAB+/DMB are on VHF where we currently have analogue TV; and so FM would remain… am not aware of any territory that has had FM switch-off and with such hybrid services as RadioDNS that are now available, FM is still a viable prospect to go with into the future.

    If you are in an area where you’re also struggling with your current TV reception as well then I guess you’re going to have the best luck with satellite broadcasts and broadband options.

  5. Lack of support…You can say that again, the service was damned pricey at R80-00 a month. You can get CD quality radio from the local satellite company that dare not speak its name from just R49-00 per month and they thrown in a AlJazeera as well.

  6. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    You’ll have to go online to purchase a DAB+ receiver of your liking and also be within the coverage area of the pilot transmissions… don’t be disappointed though if when you switch on your receiver you don’t find that;

    >>The trial covers Johannesburg and Pretoria and includes 40 public, commercial and community radio stations.

    When scanning, I’m finding 12 stations on my DAB+ receiver but am not able to receive transmissions. Still trying to resolve the issue…