30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful


Photo by premasagar

Today’s idea is really just a question – and a really bleeding obvious one at that:

Why doesn’t this thing have a DAB chip in it?

And, for that matter, why doesn’t pretty much every other phone available on the market also have a DAB chip? Given the popularity of in-car docks, and the sheer ubiquity of mobile phones, it seems like such a complete and utter no-brainer.

I don’t need A radio – I just want THE radio. And I already have something I could listen to it on. Whoever’s job it is to make Britain “digital”… sort it out, would you?

Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas

  1. The other way of following first
  2. Now we’re up and dancing
  3. 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
  4. 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
  5. 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
  6. 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
  7. 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
  8. 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
  9. 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
  10. 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
  11. 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
  12. 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
  13. 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
  14. 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
  15. 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
  16. 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
  17. 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
  18. 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
  19. 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
  20. 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
  21. 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
  22. 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
  23. 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
  24. 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
  25. 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
  26. 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
  27. 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
  28. 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
  29. 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
  30. 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
  31. 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
  32. 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
  33. Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
  34. What can you do in 30 days?

10 Responses to “30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful”

  1. Simon Tucker says:

    So why dab and not Internet radio?

  2. Dubber says:

    You can already get internet radio. But DAB is different.

    The short version is that Internet Radio is not the same as broadcast radio, even if the same noises come out – just like YouTube and iPlayer are not the same thing as digital TV. I’m talking here about a dedicated tuner and receiver – a DAB chip – built into the device, for the over-the-air reception of broadcast programming.

    The long version, incidentally, is the subject of a 40,000 word dissertation that I wrote 5 years ago, but which I won’t inflict on you here.

  3. Dubber says:

    Oh – and I meant to say – a dedicated chip doesn’t use your phone’s brain to do the decoding, and it won’t use any of your data plan. It’s completely passive in that respect.

  4. Andrew Cowie says:

    Isn’t the reason that only the UK and (I think) Finland have adopted DAB as a digital radio standard so no US device like the iPod would want one and neither would 99% of their global customers? You’ll know more about this than me but I assumed part of the BBC’s problem with 6 Music and the Asian Network is that DAB as a platform hasn’t taken off – FM sounds better, FM radios are cheaper, the batteries last longer and it’s open so anyone can launch their own local pirate FM station. If you want more choice you can play internet radio on anything so I’m not sure what gap is being filled by DAB or why anyone would want it on a phone.

  5. Dubber says:

    I’m pretty critical of the DAB (Eureka 147) format myself. It was already an obsolete format when it was first implemented, and the biggest downfall is that it’s non-upgradable (you can’t broadcast firmware updates, for instance) – but things aren’t as bad as you might think.

    Although the BBC has been the biggest investor in DAB, and the UK the most enthusiastic adopter (alongside the Scandinavian countries), it is the single most widely used digital radio platform worldwide. Second would be satellite radio – eg Sirius, XM (now defunct) and Worldspace (now defunct); third would be HD Radio (In-Band-On-Channel), which broadcasts digital signals on existing FM frequencies; and fourth would be Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), which is mostly used for low bitrate, long distance shortwave service replacement.

    Here are the countries using (and intending to use) our DAB system as the platform for digital radio services:
    http://www.worlddab.org/country_information.

    The criticism I’ve heard about the audio fidelity is more because of spectrum allocation and overcrowding of signals, rather than the capacity of the platform itself (data compression, rather than audio compression). That is, that DAB sounds much worse than CD (fair) rather than worse than FM (not fair).

    Generally speaking, it’s better than streaming audio up to about 128k. The fact that some broadcasters are putting out music programmes in mono on DAB is simply because they’re bandwidth greedy and should be slapped. It’s not the platform.

    There are two reasonable negative comparisons with FM. The first is more about reception with respect to line of sight to transmitter. If you lose a DAB signal, the music goes away completely. If you lose FM signal, it just goes fuzzy. But where your coverage is good, your signal is fine. Things are better in places that use Band III VHF rather than the much higher frequency L-band for broadcasting. Higher frequencies are more directional, and so obstacles can become a problem.

    The second is that DAB doesn’t need the brutal processing that FM radio does, but broadcasters still use it. FM radio is compressed to hell – the dynamic range and the frequency range squashed within an inch of its life. Digital broadcasts don’t require the same level of processing (arguably, nor do FM broadcasts, but that’s where we are), but the reason broadcasters still use it is partly because they believe people think that this is what radio is supposed to sound like, but mostly because of The Loudness War, which is even worse in radio than it is in CD mastering.

    In effect, the complaint is that DAB sounds as bad as FM.

    I would like to see all existing terrestrial over-the-air broadcasts (AM, FM & DAB) shift to internet streaming, given a good compression algorithm like AAC+, and given free, ubiquitous wifi.

    In the meantime, I’d like to see an opening up of the spectrum for legal, unlicenced micro-broadcasting on the FM band. It works just fine in New Zealand where there’s no pirate radio – because it’s perfectly legal to broadcast to a small geographic area on a particular bit of the FM dial.

    But given the investment in the broadcast technology, the commitment across all political parties and OfCom to a managed digital ‘switchover’, the incredible market penetration and frequent upgrade habits of consumers in the mobile marketplace, a diversity of existing services and the advantages of free, over the air public and private broadcasting, the fact that the DAB chips are so cheap and plentiful, the (potential) audio fidelity despite the bad reputation, and just how easy it would be to do this, it’s difficult to see a downside.

    Had this been done even 5 years ago, DAB would be utterly embedded by now. The one thing holding up its development has been that people didn’t want to buy expensive dedicated receivers – but they’ll spend more than double that without blinking on a handset that would be perfectly capable of doing the same job.

  6. Mikko says:

    Minor correction to one of the previous comments: While the Finnish TV is fully digital, the plans for digital radio were abandoned some years ago. Mainly because the people behind them were making a horrible mess out of it.

  7. Andrew Cowie says:

    Interesting link – if you follow all the links within links you discover that digital radio take-up actually fell in the last quarter of 2009 so the 2015 digital switchover looks unlikely.

    As a punter I know what added value I get from digital TV – HD and on demand catch up TV, and I know what I get with internet radio; podcasts and access to overseas broadcasters like KCRW and This American Life, plus Spotify, Last.FM and all those other internet-enabled services, but I’ve had a DAB radio for about three years and I must admit I still don’t really know what it’s supposed to do for me that FM and the internet don’t do better.

  8. I think maybe the signal may effect the other instruments onboard the phone
    maybe a seperate arial is needed

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