Joan Warner, Commercial Radio Australia and WorldDAB
With ABU’s Radio Asia conference taking place in Bangkok this year, attention was on Thailand’s progress with digital radio.
Just prior to Radio Asia, WorldDAB hosted a DAB+ workshop, at which we were pleased to welcome Col. Dr. Natee Sunkonrat, Vice-Chair of the NBTC and Chair of the National Broadcasting Committee and Orasri Srirasa, Division Director of the Digital Broadcasting Bureau of the NBTC, who gave an excellent insight into progress so far and the reasons they are using DAB+.
The workshop was attended by over 90 attendees from across the Asia Pacific region and the lessons from Thailand can be applied across the region for those countries looking to start their own DAB+ trials and digital radio planning.
There has been impressive progress in Thailand since the first DAB+ workshop in 2013. The NBTC/ITU Roadmap for the introduction of digital terrestrial radio services in Thailand has been published, including sample frequency plans, cost modelling and international benchmarks for DAB+ deployment to reference in the development of regulatory and policy framework for Thailand. WorldDAB understands that the draft frequency plan needs to be approved and a period of public consultation is required prior to the DAB+ trial services starting.
Planning so far has involved Government, all leading sectors of the Thai broadcast industry, infrastructure providers, systems integrators, vehicle and radio manufacturers. Thailand has got this right, its crucial to start the conversation with key stakeholders early; keeping them well informed as planning progresses to a comprehensive trial.
With over 5000 FM services currently on air in Thailand, DAB+ provides an opportunity to remove congestion, remove interference with aeronautical bands and plan for an interference-free network of licensed broadcasters. This interference needs to be addressed, as NBTC estimate that radio’s penetration has fallen from 38% in 2012 down to 16% or around 10m people in 2016.
There are eight proposed DAB+ trial sites in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Prajuab Kirikhan, Khon Kaen in the north and Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla in the south of the country on the Malaysian boarder, delivering 80% population coverage. Until analogue TV switch off in 2023, the DAB+ services will need to be co-located to avoid interference; national SFNs and local MFNs are possible in the future.
Capacity building workshops have been held with broadcasters in four regions and focus groups have researched audience interest in the new platform. NBTC has also carried out research into people’s willingness to invest in digital radio receivers. This found that even before services switch on, 39% of radio listeners are willing to pay for a receiver and the emergency warning capability is considered a significant benefit. Respondents said they were willing to pay around US$32 for a basic portable radio, up to $160 for a fully featured colour screen receiver and almost twice that for a colour screen automotive receiver.
The full presentation from Col. Dr. Natee Sunkonrat can be viewed or downloaded here and it’s well worth a read. 2017 looks set to be an exciting year for digital radio in Thailand and WorldDAB will be watching progress closely and standing by to assist where needed.