The ongoing controversy on the state of DAB in the United Kingdom continues to unfold, as recent passage of a Digital Economy by parliament stoked speculation that a previously published benchmark for switching off analog services may have been premature.
On the positive side, the UK Digital Radio Development Bureau, a trade-funded organization with a mission to support growth of DAB, reports that more than 10 million digital receivers, representing roughly 15 percent of British households, have been sold to date. In addition, public acceptance of the technology seems to be positive overall, while a key report (Digital Britain white paper) issued in June calling for the shutdown of national FM analog services in 2015 garnered worldwide attention.
But there are also some indications that DAB may not achieve its penetration targets as soon as hoped. Critics of the technology perennially cite two issues as stumbling blocks:
The MPEG Layer 2 codec that remains embedded as a legacy of DAB’s 10-year rollout. While DAB+ and other DMB systems now employ a vastly improved codec based on AAC, officials in the UK are hamstrung by the fact that most of the DAB sets sold to date are not upgradeable, leaving officials to fear that an attempt to make the transition to DAB+ now could mortally wound the digital transition’s forward momentum.
The question of DAB coverage versus cost. Due to the advanced technology required to support them, the sheer number of multiplex transmission sites needed to replicate analog FM coverage substantially raises operating costs for both BBC and commercial stations now moving on to digital. For commercial operators in particular, those costs come as their industry suffers a severe downturn in the advertising market, with some holding short of committing to DAB as a result.