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New technology promises a local radio revolution

Hundreds of local digital radio stations could start broadcasting across the UK in future, after Ofcom completed successful trials of a ground-breaking technology.

  • Ofcom trials pave the way for hundreds of local digital radio stations
  • Report reveals capability and demand for UK wide roll-out

The new technique, known as 'small-scale DAB', allows local and community stations to hit the airwaves using freely-available software and equipment costing from £9,000.

Previously, these stations have broadcast on analogue AM and FM, but have been held back by the higher cost of broadcasting on the UK's Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio platform.

Ofcom has been testing small-scale DAB since June 2015, with 70 local stations broadcasting on trial licences around the UK. Yesterday, we published a report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who made funding available for the project, that confirms the trials have been a success.

We have also identified space in the airwaves that could support a UK-wide roll out of the technology, using spectrum bands previously occupied by business radio. Re-using these bands could pave the way for hundreds more stations to join the digital radio revolution.

Trials prove a success

Small-scale DAB in the UK was pioneered by an Ofcom engineer, Rashid Mustapha, who initially tested the concept by installing a digital radio transmitter on a Brighton roof-top. Following this trial, the Government asked Ofcom to develop the concept further and carry out 'real world' tests.

Ofcom's final report shows that these trials were highly successful. The technology worked well, and the stations co-ordinated effectively with the multiplex licensees.

The trials also suggest there is significant demand from smaller radio stations to use DAB.

Neil Stock, Ofcom's Director of Broadcast Licensing, said: "This technology could open up a new, local dimension in digital radio. We're confident that a UK wide roll-out of these stations would be technically possible and commercially viable.

"Our trials have enabled groups of community and local commercial radio stations to work together, enabling new stations to serve local communities right across the UK."

Next steps

The Government will consider the findings of the report, and Ofcom is ready to work with it on any necessary steps to enable small-scale DAB stations to be licensed permanently. Overseas, stations using the technology are now on air in Switzerland and France. Other regulators in Europe have approached Ofcom to express their interest in using the same approach, which suggests that small-scale DAB could be deployed in many other countries.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

In June 2015 Ofcom announced the award of the ten trial licence multiplexes, each home to at least six stations:

  1. Angel Radio in Portsmouth
  2. BFBS Aldershot in Woking
  3. Brighton and Hove Radio in Brighton
  4. Celador Radio in Bristol
  5. Future Digital Norfolk in Norwich
  6. Niocast Digital in Manchester
  7. Switch Radio in Birmingham
  8. Scrimshaws Information Directories in Glasgow
  9. U.DAB in London
  10. UKRD in Cambridge

Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. We have responsibilities across television, radio, video on demand, telecoms, wireless communications and postal services. News releases and other resources for journalists can be found at: media.ofcom.org.uk

 

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