Staying in analog radio is a dead end: Digital Broadcasting Summit KL

Transmission expert Les Sabel told broadcast managers and engineers in Kuala Lumpur today that staying in analog transmission is a “dead end.”

Most Asian countries are well behind Australia in launching digital radio.

Sabel, a technical consultant for CRA and World DMB, was speaking at a workshop on Digital Radio in the lead up to the official opening of the Digital Broadcasting Summit tomorrow in Malaysia.

He told delegates the cost of inaction on digital radio “is that listeners will go somewhere else.”

Sabel laid out a range of suggested technical steps for network planning and roll out in Asian countries, based on lessons learnt from Australia and internationally. He said a good time to roll out digital radio is when digital tv is being rolled out, because the same benefits of more content, more features and better quality are available for both media and it is easier to educate listeners about the benefits of digital radio if they are already thinking about similar features for digital tv.

Digital Radio’s “long term payoff for broadcasters,” according to Sabel, is lower operating expenses once simulcasting is turned off, plus increased value in content, added value for spectrum and the option for a much more flexible future. He recommended that broadcasters migrate gradually to digital transmission rather than trying to launch everything at once with a “big bang.”

Abdul Ramin from RTM Malaysia outlined the progress towards digital radio in his country. Initial studies of digital radio began in 1999 and in 2005 a decision was made to adopt three standards: DVBT, DAB+ and DRM for Malaysia. Broadcast trails began in 2009 and “the results are very encouraging,” said Ramin. The trial licences expired this year and the Malaysian national broadcaster is hoping they will be quickly renewed by the regulator so that the next stage of trials can include content trials and listening studies, as well as just technical analysis.

RTM is anticipating a national roll of digital radio out over ten years, based on the country’s past experience of the FM roll out. Major cities on the west and east coasts of Malaysia are planned to be in the first stage of the roll out, followed by smaller cities then regional areas.

Commercial Radio Australia’s Kath Brown outlined ten critical factors for success in rolling out digital radio and explained that a crucial element in Australia’s success with digital radio was that all sectors of broadcasting agreed on a united policy position and presented it to government. Once there is an accepted policy from government, the next steps are to get the program makers and receiver manufacturers excited about digital radio, then get car manufacturers on board.

Digital radios have become a mass market item. There are about 400 models of digital radio receiver available, with the cheapest model in Australia priced at only $17, available from Aldi supermarkets.

In Brown’s opinion, “broadcasters are the best placed to plan their networks and operate the multiplex licences.” Her ten steps to success are:

  1. Select spectrum efficient technology, such as DAB+
  2. Start NOW
  3. Give broadcasters incentives to embrace digital radio, such as new digital spectrum licences
  4. Tell governments that transmission costs will be much less (one tenth of analog costs) once simulcasting is finished and that there is a potential digital dividend from the old analog spectrum
  5. Plan a national staged project
  6. Save operational costs by careful coverage planning
  7. Encourage new content and affordable receivers
  8. Work to get digital radio into vehicles and smart phones
  9. Marketing strategy to inform listeners
  10. Use analog and online to cross promote digital benefits

Asked by AsiaRadioToday in the question session whether Asian governments had the knowledge and the will to help broadcasters roll out digital radio, the panel’s consensus was that it has to be a mutual decision where broadcasters and governments work together. It is essential that all sectors of broadcasting in a country unite to make a single recommendation to government to begin the process.

Malaysian national broadcaster Abdul Ramin agreed with this view, saying that the Malaysian government will normally consider a request if it comes from the whole industry and there is keen support for it from all broadcast sectors.


There will be more coverage of the Digital Broadcasting Summit in our sister publication AsiaRadioToday all through this week.


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