Over 100 reply to Ofcom’s Small Scale DAB consultation

Ofcom has received over a hundred replies in its consultation on the future of Small Scale DAB licensing.

From the documents viewed by RadioToday, the majority are mostly in favour of the current proposals.

Just last week, Parliament approved the Order required for Ofcom to commence the roll-out of Small Scale DAB.

Radiocentre welcomes the move into Small Scale DAB but says there are risks at repeating mistakes of the past in the allocation of FM spectrum, much of which has been used to expand community radio rather than strengthen local commercial radio services. Radiocentre says that given this context, it is unclear whether the proposed method of implementation for SSDAB truly offers the most efficient use of spectrum.

Wireless says demand for these licences must be reassessed before commencing the licensing timetable. The group points out that the expressions of operator demand that are guiding Ofcom’s approach (including expressions made by Wireless) predate subsequent industry developments that have fundamentally altered the UK local radio market. In particular, Bauer has acquired Celador, UKRD, Lincs Group and Wireless Group’s GB ILR portfolio (currently subject to uncertainty amidst the CMA’s Phase 2 investigation), and Quidem has entered into a brand licensing agreement with Global.

Many of the radio services within these groups would have been key beneficiaries of the small-scale DAB initiative.

However, with these stations potentially soon to be integrated into national networks operated by Bauer and Global, the cornerstone of support (financial and otherwise) for these small-scale multiplexes has materially diminished.

Wireless goes on to say, given all of these significant and material factors, they propose that Ofcom’s plans should be paused and re-evaluated afresh, to ascertain whether they will maximize net consumer and citizen benefits in the years to come.

One of the proposals by Ofcom is to limit every Small Scale DAB multiplex to DAB+ transmissions. Respondent Wide FM points out that Ofcom is giving community stations a boost on one hand by bringing the DAB platform within reach, but then crippling them by forcing listeners to upgrade to newer equipment.

Meanwhile, viamux says it supports the amendment of the Digital Radio Technical Code to include a condition requiring that small-scale radio multiplex services should operate using DAB+ only.

In Scotland, growing radio group DC Thomson points out transmitter size restrictions at 100 watts, and the 40% overlap rule exclusively and unfairly protects the interests of the existing DAB mux owners, and renders any meaningful DAB competition to small and uneconomical.

SC Thomson goes on to say restricting Small Scale DAB to DAB+ only further limits those whom can access/receive the radio services which when combined with the earlier points already listed in our summary further harms commercial viability due to the small number of listeners able to receive DAB+.

There were no named replies from the largest radio groups Global, Communicorp or Bauer.

You can read all of the replies in full here.

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15 Comments
  1. Radio Geordie says

    It should be left to the platform provider &/or the actual station to decide how they broadcast – not having it forced on them.

    As to the timetable – the original 10 experimenters should be given automatic renewals as a thank you for their efforts in bringing this to fruition.

    No real surprise though that both Ofcom and Radiocentre are looking after the big boys, as usual.

  2. david worth says

    The number of dab only radio.is getting smaller every year and would be smaller if ofcom said only dab plus radios could be sold in the uk

  3. Michael V says

    Small community services must get a fair chance & the county that a SSDAB mux serves completely covered. This can turn into a repeat of the mess that the bigger multiplexes ran into. Frequency allocation must be considered as there needs to be consideration of neighbouring multiplex frequencies.

    We could risk filling up Band 3 [DAB band too quickly]

    Britain needs to push forward in DAB evolution. I absolutely agree that all services should broadcast in DAB+ format. We have already fallen behind Europe with some countries even skipping original DAB format.

    For once I agree with most of what ofcom propose.

  4. Gareth Hart says

    We should be encouraging new services to be broadcast using DAB+ to encourage migration to a more specturally efficient broadcasting standard. One which allows a balance between quality (including stereo) and choice.

    If we maintain the old technology, we do what has been happening with budget feature phones and low price smartphones for a decade or so. Only making products for old standards and refusing to implement the new one, creating a vicious and infinite circle. DAB+ now faces the same issue, manufacturers who refuse to implement it and a number of broadcasters stubbornly refusing to implement DAB+, potentially forever. Global Radio seems to believe that adopting DAB+ is not financially damaging considering its recent decisions on Digital One, despite the complaints of a few hundred on social media post Radio X transition.

    If we keep the attitude of “we should only switch once virtually 100% of the userbase have adopted the new technology and abandoned the old one” as a number of consultant respondents said, we’d still have BBC Radio 1-3 on medium wave, the upper half of the FM band empty and no DAB services below frequency block 11B!

  5. Nicholas Hartounian says

    Never mind Radiocentre, take a look at the scaremongering response from Arqiva (‘There is a risk that some listeners currently enjoying Classic FM, The Archers, LBC could suddenly lose stations they have been listening to digitally for years’).

    And then there’s the arrogance of Wireless’ response – (‘the benefit to consumers of utilising the available spectrum to licence Manchester 2, Birmingham 2, Leeds 2, Sheffield 2, Northern Ireland 2, etc, would far outweigh any lost social gain coming from C-DSP services in these areas).

    It’s going to be interesting to see if (how?) DCMS and Ofcom are cowed by the vested interests represented by these two lumbering giants.

    1. Mr Boltar says

      BBC R4 still is on MW & LW. And the other examples you gave – upper FM band and below 11B – were used for NEW services , not to replace existing services. Do you really think after years being told to buy digital and then doing so, listeners won’t just give broadcasters 2 fingers if suddenly their DAB radios no longer pick up any stations? And from a listening POV DAB+ makes no different – 32K AAC+ is just as lo-fi and rubbish as 80K DAB.

      1. mb23 says

        DAB+ sets only cost £30 now, it isn’t a large investment.

        We have to move on from a situation where Radio 4 & Radio 4 Extra are broadcasting stereo content in mono on DAB, listeners deserve better.

        Both of these stations could be using 64k AAC+ in high quality stereo.

        1. Mr Boltar says

          Not everyone wants to listen to the radio on some cheap rubbish kitchen set, some of us have Tuners and no way in hell am I paying for a new tuner just to pick up DAB+. Plus in this day and age, obsoleting perfectly good equipment for accounting reasons – which is the only excuse for DAB+, its not because DAB can’t produce good results with decent bandwidth, its just down to money – which ends up in landfill is frankly obscene.

  6. Radio Producer says

    The big operators setting the agenda as usual, and OFCOM meekly agree…
    Same old – same old!
    What a shambles radio in this country has become

  7. Mr Boltar says

    Not all community radio needs to be on DAB anyway. In big cities the FM might be crowded but out in the countryside there’s huge swathes of hiss on the band which would easily be used for low power community TX at a much cheaper cost and better reach than DAB.

    Naturally because this is common sense Ofcom wouldn’t even consider it.

  8. Dave says

    DAB+ only imo and at a decent bandwidth which is far more spectrum efficient. Does this mean 5A to 8D are at last going to be used?

  9. Sue says

    Cannot see small scale DAB being viable outside big citys?.

    1. Dave says

      The only realy important question that no one knows is how much is it going to cost community stations to broadcast???.
      I can see there being multiplexs were community stations cannot afford to be on???. Give it a couple of years & the 40% will go out the window & multiplexs are allowed to expand & merge & we end up with just what the commershal radio groups want. Community radio priced out.

  10. Andrew Lenton says

    DAB+ allows Broadcasters to cram more stations into one MUX, this will always win out over audio quality. DAB must be getting on for 40 years old now? I seem to remember 1995 the first BBC DAB transmitters came on line after experimental transmissions in the late 80’s. I can not see the BBC moving to DAB+ sson, the BBC will not want to lose any listeners. I must admit 64K AAC+ would be a nice minimum starting place.

  11. Dennis Nilsson says

    “…strengthen local commercial radio services.” What a joke!

    What local commercial radio services? All “local commercial radio services” are now owned/controlled by the big boys, Bauer and Global.

    The only possible “local commercial radio services” are the community radio and some pirates.

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