The ACMA has released its Future delivery of radio report, that lays out its priorities for the future delivery of radio and underlines the vital importance of radio to Australian audiences.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the ACMA is focused on how Australia can get the most out of its valuable but limited broadcasting frequencies, particularly for FM and digital radio.
“Radio plays a critical role in providing news and informing communities in times of emergencies, as we saw during the bushfires and are seeing now with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
“We know that the radio industry needs to evolve in response to new technology and changing audience preferences, and the spectrum that the ACMA manages is a key part of that evolution.
“We have worked with all parts of the radio sector to understand their views on the future delivery of radio. And in response we are prioritising the frequency planning options that will assist radio broadcasters to make the best choices about their future service delivery.”
The ACMA priorities outlined in the report include the continued transitioning of commercial, community and national services in regional areas from AM to FM where spectrum is readily available, arrangements to allow further rollout of digital radio where this is feasible, coverage improvements for national, commercial and community broadcasting where spectrum is available and support for trials of new types of broadcasting technology.
Among the findings of the report is DAB+ remains the industry preferred long-term digital platform, especially given the level of investment to date.
However, mixed views about the cost–benefit of DAB+ outside the capital cities means that in the short to medium term, DAB+ is likely to rollout only where a commercial licence area can be served with a cost-effective number of transmitters, and/or market pressures require it.
While some sections of the industry support exploring the roll out of DRM as an alternative option for digital wide-coverage area, CRA does not support DRM, given the level of investment in DAB+.
Both CBAA and ABC support exploring DRM for AM as an option for digital wide-area coverage, and additionally, CBAA supported DRM trials and supported looking at how DRM for VHF-FM might allow additional digital radio services.
As for Satellite radio, the ACMA found there is no frequency capability suitable for satellite broadcasting to in-car and portable devices on the current fleet of Optus satellites; none is forecast at this time for the planned Optus replacement satellites.
While technologically feasible, satellite radio via dedicated satellite radio broadcasting networks would likely be prohibitively expensive.
The report also found that the transition to 4G/5G-based broadcasting of radio is not expected to happen in the short or medium term.
With its expected 5G broadcasting capabilities, it is likely to become more widely accepted as a complementary solution to traditional radio broadcasting, but while capable of using the existing broadcasting infrastructure in tower overlay mode, the 4G/5G broadcasting does not provide an obvious solution for coverage in regional and remote area
ACMA Current Priorities
- converting commercial, community and national services from AM to FM in areas where FM spectrum is readily available
- improving coverage of national, commercial and community broadcasting services where spectrum is readily available
- making digital radio channel plans for regional DAB+ where a commercial licensee or national broadcaster has committed to a rollout supporting trials of new broadcasting technology.