Broadcast Australia launches digital trial in Melbourne

Broadcast Australia launched a Band III spectrum trial of Eureka 147 digital radio technology in Melbourne this week.

The controversial trial is operating in opposition to the CRA trial, which has been running on the L Band in Sydney, and will extend to VHF Band III in December.

The Managing Director of Broadcast Australia, Graeme Barclay, spoke at today’s launch, as well as MP Bruce Billson, who was representing Communications Minister Daryl Williams.

In his speech Barclay said: “This trial is an important step in encouraging innovation and to ensure Australia is at the forefront of radio’s digital future.” See below for Barclay’s full speech.

Senior representatives of content and infrastructure trial participants also attended the launch, where a selection of DRB receivers was on display.

Broadcast Australia believes that digital radio has the potential to provide Australian listeners with clear benefits such as: easy to use receivers, greater clarity and audio quality and data information services.

The content for Broadcast Australia’s trial will be provided by third parties (including radio broadcasters) and will include audio and data.

Content providers taking part in the trial are: the ABC, DigitalOne, SBS, Sport927, World Audio and Melbourne Community Radio Broadcasters.

Significantly, Broadcast Australia says it “is not a broadcaster and will not be providing content for the trial.”

World Audio’s Andrew Peter Thompson, who is pleased with his company’s part in the BA trial, told radioinfo: “Ian MacRae will be the first commercial broadcast announcer in the history of Australian Broadcasting to broadcast on VHF Band III Channel 9 (c) in a Major metropolitan City.”

Infrastructure providers, working with Broadcast Australia include: BSA Transmission Solutions, Harris Corporation and Radio Frequency Systems.





The DRB trial will allow Broadcast Australia to test a number of technical solutions in relation to spectrum and coverage issues. It will also enable third party content providers, including radio broadcasters, to test the market in relation to availability and attractiveness of content types, including audio and data services, the availability and performance of DRB receivers and the level of interest from a test group of listeners.

In a conciliatory statement that the commercial radio industry will be pleased to hear, Barclay said at the launch: “Broadcast Australia acknowledges the successful introduction of DRB in Australia will be dependent on the strong support of the radio industry. Broadcast Australia’s intent is to work constructively with the radio industry to facilitate the introduction of DRB services.”

DRB has been introduced in the UK, where a different regulatory regime allows a multiplex provider to own the digital broadcast licence and sublet channels to various content providers. A number of new players have entered the UK market through that regulatory system.

During the launch, as he was presenting his morning show on World Audio’s Radio Two station, Ian MacRae was also switched to digital. His first words were:

“As you listen, history is being made with this official launch of the first digital radio trial.

“This is an important step to make sure the benefits of this exciting new technology should now become available to the Australian listening public.

“So I guess this means I’ve just gone digital. I’m all zeroes and ones. Which makes a nice change from being at sixes and sevens!”

Commercial Radio Australia, which opposes the UK regulatory model and the Broadcast Australia trial, today pushed further on how it believes progress towards digital radio in Australia should proceed (see other story).

Launch speech

Broadcast Australia’s Managing Director Graeme Barclay launched the DRB trial saying:

Firstly, let me welcome our guest of honour at this morning’s launch, The Honourable Mr Bruce Billson, Member for Dunkley, representing the Hon Daryl Williams …

I will give a short presentation which will be followed by a speech by Mr Bruce Billson MP. Then, I would like to demonstrate digital radio using some of the receivers placed on the table here…

Many people have asked why is Broadcast Australia involved in launching a Melbourne digital radio trial? And what is it?

Firstly, many entities are involved in the trial – without whom we would not be in a position to commence trial transmissions – so it is more than just a Broadcast Australia trial. Thank you to each of the content and infrastructure and equipment participants for your contributions to date – and Broadcast Australia looks forward to working with each of you, and indeed with the radio industry generally, to make the benefits of this new technology a reality.

Secondly, as to why Broadcast Australia is involved in launching a trial, I would say our commercial aspirations are quite transparent – that is:

· There is available spectrum

· There are an increasing number of countries in Europe and North America rolling out DRB services on a permanent basis

· The price of DRB receivers is trending downwards, and that pressure is expected to continue

· We own and operate a substantial radio broadcast transmission network delivering AM and FM services on a near national basis

· We would like to see DRB introduced sooner rather than later, because we are well placed to provide transmission services for the new digital channels – we see it as a key growth market for us in the medium term

· We would like to better understand the drivers that might make DRB a success – technically and from a consumer take up perspective.

Let me quite clear about what Broadcast Australia is not –

· We are not a broadcaster and we are not a content provider

· We do not intend to become a broadcaster and we do not intend to become a content provider

· This does not mean that Broadcast Australia is not interested in the content that is broadcast over the new medium – we definitely are, and we would like to see compelling content as this is what ultimately will drive the penetration of DRB receivers.

· This trial provides an 18 month period for content providers to test in a controlled environment consumer reaction to new DRB content.

Which raises the question – what is DRB? Many, many people in this room would be able to give their own, and more articulate, answer. The way I answer is to say that DRB offers, on a point to multi point basis, the potential for: better reception quality, no retuning and useful text screen information – either program associated data or independent data. But it offers the potential for much more – as DRB can also carry video, text/data and pictures – and who knows in the future whether it will be able to carry other services – such as Voice over IP, or other 3G-like applications.

The point I want to make is that we at BA do not understand the implications or the full potential of this new technology – but what we do know is that it has the potential to make a very significant positive impact on the share of available advertising revenues paid to the radio industry. Exactly what the services are that emerge in coming years is unclear, but it is likely that today’s business model will need to be adapted to cope with the new technology environment.

I recognise and acknowledge that a successful introduction of permanent DRB services will be critically dependent on the support of the radio industry generally. To this end, I confirm that it is Broadcast Australia’s intent to work collaboratively with the industry – indeed we invite and offer all
national, commercial and community broadcasters the opportunity to participate in the Melbourne trial if they so wish – we intend to work inclusively and the results of this trial will be made available to all participants and to relevant regulatory bodies.

I acknowledge there are business and investment implications for existing radio broadcasters that will need to be sensibly worked through. We do not believe it is our role to make any prescriptive statement here – rather this is a regulatory issue will have to be addressed in due course.

Let me conclude by saying this – What we would like to achieve in the next 18 months (period of the trial) is to: generate some excitement and awareness of the potential of the DRB technology and provide input to the Government’s process to define and select the appropriate technical standard.