UK Digital Radio is at a crossroads with moves underway to replace the current MPEG layer II audio coding standard with the more modern High Efficiency aacPlus codec which Australia has mandated, and in so doing rendering every current DAB radio sold obsolete.
Talk in Britain recently has been how the DAB airwaves are overcrowded with stations and as a result audio quality for many has been worse than analogue FM, a situation that is detrimental for both broadcasters and listeners.
The UK regulator Ofcom has received bids for a new Digital Multiplex, including one from the Channel 4 Television group mentioning the possibility of abandoning backwards compatibility entirely and commencing operations with the new codec:
“4 Digital Group believes that the long-term growth of DAB radio requires making the most of all the opportunities DAB offers. A significant opportunity for expansion of services at high audio quality arises from the potential introduction of DAB+.”
Now the incumbent multiplex operator Digital One is making noises it too might consider a switch to the new codec. The organisation’s CEO Quentin Howard defended the process on a recent BBC television program but was vague when asked if the public had “wasted their money” buying a current DAB receiver, indicating the operator plans to convert to the new codec in a few years.
At issue are the estimated 1.2 million radios sold to early adopters, some at a price point of hundreds of pounds. Digital radios are now outselling their analogue counterparts in some electronics stores with prices from as low as £30.