DAB Radio: A toy for the iPod GenX

SINGAPORE: Radio as we know it, is soon going to be a thing of the past. With new and emerging technologies, radio is all set to get a face lift.

Radio in Asia, is the most accessible of the media and what's more... it's free. There are a few key factors behind the success of analogue radio. It's simple and user friendly, has a wide variety of content, it's portable and mobile and has a broad audience appeal. But the big question is - Will analogue radio survive in a digital world? 

The answer to that is anyone's guess. The next generation of radio - Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) - is now vying for consumer attention.

While DAB radio defines the next generation of radio receivers, it must cross the cultural divide first and gain consumer acceptance. The hurdle it faces are that users don't want to move into new and unfamiliar technology and hence DAB Radio must offer much more than FM / AM. Also, incremental cost must be justified by content and new features and it has to change the way traditional radio is consumed. Perhaps, the most crucial thing is that DAB radio must offer more than just radio.

Highlighting the key strengths of DAB, Frontier Silicon UK VP sales and marketing Steve Evans said, "DAB has better quality audio, is easy to tune in, has more channels, provides data services, has future proof technology and value added features. However, it is not just about high quality radio. Compared to conventional analogue radios, DAB has to be much more. Moreover, broadcasters can capitalise on the potential of DAB technology to transmit more attractive data services." 

"On the other hand," Evans said, "Receiver manufacturers can develop receivers that enable the consumption of the services. However, there has to be cooperation between broadcasters and receiver manufacturers."

What's more, DAB also enables EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) and allows the iPod generation to get their music, where they want it and when they want it. "EPG allows listeners to see what's on now and for the next seven days, search programmes by genre, by time, and allows them to set advanced timer recordings. It also enables recording of programmes in real time or at a later date in the same way as a personal video recorder (PVR) apart from enhancing the user's radio listening experience," Evans said. 

Another important feature of DAB is that it gives the consumer the ability to pause, rewind, fast-forward, and record live radio to variety of storage mediums. "This is a growing feature that is becoming synonymous with DAB digital radios. It works both on audio data and DLS text messages, however, small incremental price due to additional RAM memory required for rewind buffers," said Evans. 

DAB's Dynamic Label Segment also allows broadcasters to send text information and control characters along with the audio service. The text can be used to provide more information about the station and also to increase advertising revenue for the broadcasters. Apart from this, a Slide Show feature in DAB allows broadcasters to send a sequence of images (JPG/BMP) associated with tracks being played. "Visual along with audio would greatly help radio advertisers to increase advertising revenue and is already being trialled by numerous broadcasters," Evans said. 

Additionally, content can also be repurposed for different delivery platforms. Evans said, "DAB is an ideal transport channel for web site content to be delivered to users using the DAB BWS user application. Broadcast Website (BWS) allows DAB multiplex operators to use the internet as source content and deliver an entire web site to a DAB receiver using only the broadcast channel of DAB. Content on the web site can be used to promote the broadcaster and provide interactivity to the consumer." 

Another aspects of DAB is that it enables mobile digital TV by using T-DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcast). "DAB can act as a transport mechanism to deliver video to receivers and has the capability to deliver video up to 1.5Mbps. It also enables the long awaited mobile TV deployment using broadcast technology, rather than cellular based point-to-point service, which has traffic handling limitations," Evans said.

T-DMB services have already commercially launched in Korea, China and very recently in Germany.

However, these data services are useless unless suitable receivers are introduced into the market. DAB receivers should:

• Present the data in a 'usable' and 'attractive' manner

• Low power consumption to ensure long battery life

• Low cost to promote mass market uptake

• Easy integration to enable more manufacturers

• Sufficient processing power to cope of datacast decoding 

• Programmable to cope with changing standards

The key features of Next Generation radios include:

• Large display to show more contents

• Built-in memory for data caching applications (pause/rewind)

• Support for external memory plugin to read audio files (USB host/slave)

• Support for Firmware Upgrade (USB) to cope with changing standards 

• Applications including DAB, FM, Audio decoders, Picture/Video decoders, PVR like capability

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