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Standardising the standards – why DAB Digital Radio profiles became essential

DAB Digital Radio Receivers Lineup (C) DRDB 2008

The Eureka 147 project, from which DAB Digital Radio was born, bequeathed us a very feature rich, powerful and flexible multi-media broadcasting platform, neatly optimised for small, mobile, battery powered receivers. In fact, as a piece of technology, the core EN 300 401 spec and its associated standards (EN 302 077 etc.) are often imitated and are hard to beat. For mass-market radio broadcasting, I believe it is an unbeatable technology.

The core standards were written as a pan-European project to create a digitisation path for radio; an early example of Agree on Technology, Compete on Content. Whilst there are daft things in there (over 10 categorisations of speech programming, only 2 categorisations of “Pop” and “Rock” music), the core has been on-air since 1995, and remains virtually unchanged.

Being fine technologists, the original specification writers left lots of hooks and places to extend the specification. That’s why DAB has so easily incorporated DAB+ and DMB (Mobile TV), and spawned a myriad of interesting data applications – Slideshow, Broadcast Website, EPG, TPEG, IP over DAB (to name but a few). Whatever problem you have to solve, EN 300 401 provides a pretty good starting point. Without over-simplifying things, if you can write packet-orientated IP applications, you can probably write applns for DAB too.

But somewhere along the way, the community lost track of the real reason to Agree on Technology – and it’s receivers. It’s all very well writing the coolest ever DAB application, but what if nothing can receive it? E P I C F A I L…..

I’ve grumbled enough about the individual nations of Europe (and elsewhere) tinkering around without thinking about the implications of their actions. Nuff said.

The outcome was that too many manufacturers, particularly the automotive manufacturers, just found it too confusing and risky to build receivers. Last time I looked, there were three different audio transmission systems, three different ways of visualising radio, two ways of adding browseable content, two ways of transmitting text information, two ways of downloading Java apps to the receiver, and nobody seems to have agreed completely yet how to transmit traffic and travel information. Not only were receiver manufacturers confused about what to support in their devices, broadcasters and regulators couldn’t decide what to do either.

In an attempt to get some direction back into the matter, WorldDMB have produced (after due consultation with the relevant stakeholders) a set of standard receiver profiles, which attempt to balance functionality, complexity and cost, whilst retaining a goal of European-wide interoperability.

  • The Profile 1 receiver is pretty simple – audio (all three types), simple text display. The Profile 1 receiver is the market entry receiver that demonstrates that DAB Digital Radio is a mass market technology anyone can afford. I would hope to see €15,- receivers available Europe-wide within 5 years.
  • The Profile 2 receiver is, in my opinion, where it’s at – or more precisely, where the money is at for the broadcasters. Profile 2 requires a colour screen and supports simple visualisation (amongst other things). If Profile 1 is analogue radio made digital, Profile 2 is proper digital radio. Profile 2 ought to be attainable by all “radio” manufacturers, and Profile 2 (automotive) has to be a slam dunk when you see what people like Audi have in store for our cars.
  • The Profile 3 receiver will probably never get built. Seriously. Profile 3 is the all-singing-all-dancing-it-does-everything-the-licensing-costs-will-be-horrendous profile. What I expect will happen is that a device that already includes pretty much all the relevant technology (and nasty licensing fees) will use Profile 3 to integrate DAB into the device. Think Nokia N-Series, Apple iPhone, Google Android (because I certainly am).

Hopefully by creating some more definite “standard receivers” from the standards, it will enable to confident decision making and commitments. Without it, the market would have stalled in hesitation and uncertainty.

So the ball is back in the court of the broadcasters to broadcast services that consumers will want to buy new radios from manufacturers to receive. That’s natural order of these things. And hopefully, in the future, my colleagues from across Europe will be talking together about how to evolve radio, so that we avoid another clearing-up session in 5 years time.

(Photo – (C) DRDB – Digital Radio Development Bureau)

One reply on “Standardising the standards – why DAB Digital Radio profiles became essential”

So we are to be forced into DAB by turning off FM. Where I am , the FM signal is the only radio that can receive Classic FM. I tried two DABs – one could tune in Classic FM if we placed it on the bedroom windowledge; the second could tune only some BBC channels. Useless, or what? DAB is not helped by dishonest advertising that fails to point out that on a portable set with a msll loudspeaker there is absolutely no quality advantage to DAB. At least they are now reluctantly acknowledging that coverage of anything other than BBC is pretty patchy.

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