State-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech, in partnership with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), will begin a digital radio trial in October using the digital audio broadcasting plus (DAB+) standard.
A separate but related trial is under way using a technology called digital radio mondiale (DRM).
DAB+ is meant as the digital replacement for analogue FM broadcasts and DRM is effectively a digital replacement of the medium-wave or AM band.
“These technologies will not only deliver better audio quality for radio, but also additional data services which can be displayed on a radio screen, such as traffic, weather and news updates,” Sentech CEO Setumo Mohapi tells TechCentral in an interview.
He says the digital radio pilots will run for as long as possible and will be conducted in partnership with the NAB and the SABC.
“It’s a trial to make sure that we understand the technology and operational issues,” explains Mohapi.
Digital radio makes more efficient use of spectrum and provides listeners with access to value-added services.
Mohapi says digital radio is not intended to replace analogue radio outright. Indeed, the two will run in parallel. The benefits become clear when considering how the technology is able to squeeze more information over the same airwaves, ultimately allowing more broadcasters to have access and creating a diversity of voices.
“Depending on the transmission characteristics, we’ll be able to get up to 18 radio services into one FM frequency used by one radio station today,” Mohapi says.
Mohapi says no significant changes to Sentech infrastructure are needed as signals sent to transmitter towers are already digital. Broadcasters will have to package their output slightly differently to FM transmission, mainly to cater for additional data that will be carried on the broadcast signal.
Other benefits of digital radio include improved power consumption and lower maintenance costs and an increase in the number of services that can be hosted on common infrastructure, says Mohapi.
The trials are free of charge to radio stations that want to participate and will take place in Gauteng using high-powered transmitters on the Sentech tower in Brixton and on the Kameeldrift tower outside Pretoria.
Mohapi says trials in other parts of the country are possible, but Sentech is focusing on Gauteng for the first phase. The results of the trial will be provided to communications regulator Icasa, which must decide if and when digital radio licences will be issued.
The trial is open to members of the NAB and the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association, says NAB executive director Nadia Bulbulia. The organisations represent commercial radio broadcasters, the SABC, Sentech and other parties.
Consumers hoping to tune into the digital broadcasts during the trial period can do so, but will need to buy either a DAB+ or DRM receiver. These can easily be bought from online retailers at relatively little cost for a basic unit. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media