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Should the uk Switch off fm radio in the next 5 years and replace it with DAB:
The United Kingdom (UK) has been one of the leading countries in the development of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) over the years (Lax, n.d.), however it is still uncertain when radio broadcasting will migrate and go completely digital. When the DAB project began back in 1986 (Lax, n.d.), the major broadcasting companies and policy makers were all voicing their options and promoting DAB as the natural successor to analogue. However, we are in 2019 and DAB still haven’t taken over radio industry like predicted, even with a lot of backing from the UK government and the major broadcaster in the UK, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It was anticipated that by 2015 most of the radio stations (commercial and public service) will end their analogue transmission and will broadcast solely on digital platform (Lax, n.d.), and all that will remain on the analogue coverage would be the small community and commercial stations; there are many reasons why digital radio hasn’t taken over yet, but these smaller community broadcasters have their part to play. Over the pass 24 years a lot of time and money have been spent on making DAB happen, however with the development of the internet should of the broadcaster looked here to bring Europe into the broadcasting digital age.
This assignment will look at why DAB radio was developed and will decide if it is feasible to switch off analogue broadcasting all together and go completely digital. It will look at why the development of digital radio was slow to take off and why it hasn’t hit the anticipated deadline of 2015; also, it will look at what the future of radio broadcasting and is there an alternative to DAB.
Eureka 147 (DAB)
The Eureka projects was launched by 17 countries and the European commission to ensure that Europe’s hi-tech industries remain competitive in the worlds market (Rudin, 2016), this was because the Japanese and Chinese economies were over shadowing Europe and were the market leaders. Eureka 147 is just the 147 development that was commissioned by the project and it asked the European entertainment electronics industry to saturate the market with new audio broadcasting units, this is how DAB was born.
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However, at first it didn’t go as planned as only one-third of the organisations who chose to develop this concept, could have been considered to be involved in producing or regulating radio services; one of the first leading companies to taking the Eureka project on was Bosch, and it was the Bosch managing director Dr Hamed Amor, who at a conference in Brussels called ‘Radio in the Digital Era’ revealed the importance of this DAB project, and that it requires political involvement to ensure its success (Rudin, 2016). Dr Amor was saying, that for Europe to remain competitive in this digitalised communications market, DAB needs to be considered in EU politics, this way it can be standardised and successful.
The big break though came in the UK when the 1996 broadcasting act was authorised, what this at did was to give large parts of the regulation programme content to the licence’s holders, and the radio authority’s remit lies with who the owners of the licences where and not the content they delivered on their stations. The UK has been and still are one of the leading developers of the DAB system in Europe.
DAB (EUREKA 147) v FM (ANALOGUE) RADIO
The way in which the AM and FM radio works is that the information being transmitted is in the form of an FM/AM analogue radio wave, the problem with this is that it can only send a certain amount of information though these waves, which means the audio quality isn’t great; back during the 80’s and early 90’s people wouldn’t notice the poor audio sound, however with the audio industry becoming more and more digitalised then people today are becoming accustom to quality audio. The analogue radio waves are very sensitive to noise and other electronic devices and the audio output can be interrupted or distorted; also, the waves can bounce of tall building and hills which again will disrupt the signal giving a poor sound quality see figure 1 (Antonine-education, n.d.). Another problem with AM and FM radio is that the frequency bands they operate on, are becoming very saturated which is leaving little room for additional radio services to broadcast on the existing analogue technology.
Figure 1 – AM/FM Radio Waves Shadowing
Moving into the digital world, instead of using analogue radio waves, with DAB the radio signal is transmitted digital, this means the information is broken down into ones and zeros. So, at the DAB transmitter drive the information gets broken down into a digital signal, and as the DAB receiver, receives this signal it rearranges so that the zeros and ones make an audio sound see figure 2 (ofcom, 2016). It also sends plenty of extra information over, this will allow the receiver to fill in any missing information which means DAB radio does not suffer from the same signal disruptions as the analogue signals. Also, unlike conventional analogue broadcasting, where only one radio station can transmit on a single frequency channel, with the DAB system several radio programmes can transmit on the same frequency channel, this means that where there was no room for new or additional radio stations to broadcast, with the use of multiplexing more transmissions can happen on the same frequency band which in turn opens up the radio waves for more broadcasters.
Figure 2 – Small Scale DAB System Block
BENEFITS OF DAB RADIO
People in the broadcasting industry believe DAB radio is the biggest advancement in radio broadcasting since the introduction of the FM stereo. However the general consensus is that DAB do have the potential to give listeners an improved listening experience. Even though quality of sound is one of the biggest benefit DAB radio has to offer there are a few more, these are (Bower, 1998):
- High Quality Digital Radio – Because the way DAB radio transmit and receives its digital signal, the user gets a higher quality sound with less interference.
- Efficient use of the limited radio frequencies – Because the DAB system can broadcast several different stations over the same frequency band, the limited radio space has now just become less congested.
- More Listening Choice – Because the use of the multiplexes more stations can be broadcasted which means a greater number of specialist programs. Each multiple can broadcast five or more high quality audio services.
- Easy Tuning – The DAB system allows for easy to use receivers, this means listeners can tune into stations by name instead of frequency.
- Added Value Features – The DAB system allows enhancements to existing radio services, and digital radio are able to pause and rewind live radio, it can also added text and still images.
THE UK’S EXPERIENCE
Back In 1995 when the UK first broadcasted its first DAB services the Eureka system had great potential, not just for the government but for everyone. It had great potential for the government because they were struggling to share out the limited radio spectrum to the mass of conflicting interest; this means that because broadcasters can transmit several programmes on the same frequency using multiplexing, it means the government has a greater network that can be shared out. It also got great potential for broadcaster and manufactures; this is because the DAB system means that broadcasters can offer more services of a greater quality; and for broadcasters to do this, manufactures have to sell large amounts of the DAB receivers. Lastly the system gives the listeners an overall experience by delivering a greater quality of sound.
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In September 1995 the BBC was awarded a licence for their first multiplex, however take off was slow, this was down to the digital receivers costing in the excess of £800 and the smaller community broadcasters unease of the system. Over the years though, the cost of digital receiver’s are now affordable and the legislation of broadcasters has relaxed, but the community broadcasters are still not happy; this is because they serve a limited amount of people and the DAB multiplexes cover a large geographically area, and it would not be cost effective for these community broadcasters to migrate over. However, the government recognised this and set up a small-scale DAB trails, which turned out to be successful (Ofcom, 2016). The trails were run to potentially provide a low-cost way for these smaller broadcasters to broadcast their stations over a single DAB transmission instead of using a multiplex; this was done using relatively cheap transmission equipment and the use of the freely available ‘open source’ software.
Even with these trails the DAB system still comes under criticism, to give the listener the CD sound quality DAB promises it needs to transmit at 192kB/s, however because of the different services be transmitted over a single multiplex, each transmission is limited to between 32 – 128kB/s (Digital Radio Insider, 2013). This is roughly the same quality as analogue transmission, so even though DAB can provide a higher quality sound the listeners are not hearing.
Before a decision is made on whether a date is set for a complete digital switchover, the Government has set the following criteria:
- When 50% of all radio listening is via digital platforms; and
- When national DAB2 coverage is comparable to FM, and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.
In 2017 Ofcom published its eighth annual digital progress radio report (Ofcom, 2017), and in it, it shows that the UK has nearly met this criteria, but the results vary from each nation, for instance the coverage is a lot greater in England then in Scotland, this could be because there are a lot more remote towns and villages in Scotland which, like discussed before might not be able to afford the high transmission cost of the DAB services. Also the results vary when it comes to hitting the 50% of the UK population listening via a digital platform, even though the UK has nearly hit this figure in England the overall percentage is 60% compared to Northern Ireland who is only at 31%, again this could be because how much greater coverage England has over the over 3 nations (Ofcom, 2017). Cars are now coming from the manufactures with a DAB receiver already build in, this means as the older cars are being replace due to natural wastage, the number of people who are listening to the radio via a digital platform will increase.
THE FUTURE OF RADIO
When the Eureka project was first assembled back in 1986 the revelation of the world wide web had not started, however since the birth of the internet by CERN in 1990, it has kept growing from strength to strength. In the early years to access the internet a fixed-point connection was required, so listening to the radio in moving vehicles was a problem and the case for terrestrial transmission was still strong. Over the years as the internet was maturing and the development of Wi-Fi hotspots, 3G and 4G, streaming radio broadcasts into cars have become a reality, soon with the introduction of 5G to the UK and the download speed that comes with that, the requirement for analogue and DAB radio is getting killed off.
The Eureka project was established to ensure that the European electronics industry stayed competitive within the world market as the world was entering the digital age. The UK has always been one of the major countries to take this project and bring it to fruition, however from the first DAB broadcast in 1995 to present, there has been many obstacles in the way. When looking back over the past 24 years the UK is nearly in a position to set a date for turning off FM broadcasting, this is because all the criticism that DAB has faced over the years are being answered; the worry for community broadcasters not being able to afford to migrate over onto a complex and expensive multiplex is being sorted with the trails of the small scale DAB, this then will naturally increase the DAB coverage and hit the 90% criteria set by the government. Also, with natural wastage the FM radios will faze out and be replaced by digital ones, this will ensure that the 50% of the population will be listening via a digital platform. The UK have never been in a better position for a digital switchover, and with 2-years of notice, before an official switch off then yes, the UK should switch off analogue broadcasting within the next 5 years as DAB transmission is meeting the government criteria and will by the time it happens will not effect that many people.
However, in the next 5 years it might not just be analogue broadcasting that could go, with the roll out of 5G this year there might not be a requirement for DAB radio. At the time the Eureka project was put together a requirement was there for DAB, but meanwhile the internet have developed more rapidly in a shorter amount time and this is where the future of radio lies.
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