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So you think it is only radio?

leathermanWhat is DAB really for? Most people in the industry would instinctively answer digital radio. And they would be right, of course. Sort of. Because they would also be forgetting a lot of possibilities.

To only think about DAB only as a method of distributing radio is like buying a Leatherman multi-tool and then only using the knife. A Leatherman saleswoman will show you, explain and demonstrate everything. The wire cutters, the screwdrivers, the knives, the pliers, the bottle opener, the can opener and the wine opener. And then some.

She would also tell you that it is made of stainless steel, has anodized aluminium handle scales, comes with a 25-year warranty and is available in various colours. She would probably even go through measurements, the weight and, in the end, the price – with a possible discount. Why all the effort? Because she wants to sell the mutli-tool to you.

So, why do we only speak about radio when talking about DAB? I’d say that is the lost opportunity of the industry.

I often speak at conferences around the world, focusing primarily on additional services. I certainly do not forget digital radio, its reduced power consumption, the improved coverage or the robustness of the signal. But there is more. Much more. And I am not only talking about reaching traditional audiences. Business to business and machine to machine communication is exploding, and mobile internet is neither cost efficient nor stable enough for the task.

1. Emergency and disaster communication

iSSUE 18 ES3Broadcasting reaches everyone instantly without capacity constraints. Via DAB, rescue teams can override every radio station with information to the public, or even switch the receiver on if it is off. Graphical and textual information may also be transmitted, i.e. a life-saving map in order to guide people out of a road tunnel where there is a fire. We are in other words talking about a disaster alarm, rescue instructions and additional public service information all in one.

2. Traffic information 
Update drivers on the traffic situation and automatically reroute them to avoid slow moving traffic or an accident. Maps of a navigation unit may also be updated. All such info reaches everyone at the same time, and is much less costly than using a telecom network.

3. Public transport updates
You just missed the bus? At bus stops in the Netherlands, you will see screens telling you when the next one arrives. That is admittedly not very unique, but the information is distributed via DAB. The low power consumption of DAB receivers means that those run on solar power, so no electricity needs to be installed to each and every bus stop. The distribution of the info is also much cheaper than via 3G or 4G.

4. Educational purposes
Most Eureka readers live in industrialized countries. A lot of people elsewhere do not, and are even without internet connections. There are plans for distributing electronic text books and updated news via DAB to rural schools in some African and Asian countries. To help more children get a better education might be one of the very best ways to use DAB.

5. Control street lights
Do you know how many street lights there are in your country? Hundreds of thousands or even millions, depending on where you live. To be able to control those efficiently will save huge amounts on electricity bills. To do this via DAB is flexible and cheap.

6. Control railway switches
Critical infrastructure such as switches on railways where high speed trains travel should not be dependent on one distribution technology alone. DAB is being considered as one of the distribution methods to manage the switches in at least one European country.

7. Get more from the radio programs 
DAB enables extra information to be broadcast together with the audio of a radio station. See photographs from the studio, find out who sings the songs and what they are called, study weather forecast maps or read news stories.

8. Find out what comes next and what you missed.
Electronic program guides are also broadcast, so you can find out what airs next or what you missed out on. The latter can be accessed via internet links available through the EPG. All names of available radio stations are of course also available and they can easily be navigated between, without knowing the frequencies.

9. Mobile television

DAB even opens up for mobile TV. It is usually referred to as DMB, which is a small part of the Eureka-147 standard, but the Leatherman saleswoman would certainly not want to confuse you with a new acronym. She would call it DAB-TV. Both radio stations and mobile TV channels can reside on the same multiplex.

10. Trigger interactivity
Whether you are listening to the radio or watching mobile TV on a mobile phone or a tablet, you can use the screen to interact with services provided by the broadcaster or a third party company. Calls for interactivity, whether it is a vote, a discussion via social media, tagging of a song, distribution of an internet link or touch screen shopping, can be done via DAB.

To mention a few possibilities.

And like the saleswoman of Leatherman I should also mention some technical facts. In Norway, FM will be switched off in January 2017. Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s multiplex will give 99.5% of the population indoor coverage – the same coverage as the best reaching radio station has today. Currently hundreds of thousands of people only receive 1, 2 or 3 radio stations via FM. With DAB+ the 5 million people in Norway will receive all of NRKs 15 stations. 90% or 4.5 million people will also receive up to 20 radio stations on the commercial broadcasters’ multiplex. The two multiplexes combined use less than 50% of the electricity of FM.

But can we not do all of this via mobile internet?

No, we cannot. First of all, it falls down when disaster strikes and when everyone tries to communicate or get access to information at once. When you need it most. Secondly, it requires a subscription. Thirdly, the coverage area is much smaller than for DAB. Telenor, the biggest MNO in Norway in August announced that Norway will never be completely covered by mobile telephony. And much less so by mobile broadband. Finally, power consumption is much higher, both on the transmitter and the receiver sides. I will refrain from listing more reasons why we need DAB in addition to mobile broadband. The initial sales pitch has been completed. When will you go for DAB?

Gunnar Garfors 
President of IDAG
Advisor at NRK 

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