Saturday, 23 January 2010

CANADA: DAB radio “is no longer a replacement for analogue AM and FM services”

The Canadian government has published a consultation that proposes to re-allocate radio spectrum previously used for DAB radio to fixed and mobile wireless devices. The consultation document narrates the story of the failure of DAB radio in Canada.

In 1996, the [Industry Canada] Department published an allotment plan to accommodate all existing and some new FM and AM radio stations by providing each with a DAB assignment. The dedication of the sub-band 1452-1492 MHz for DAB was justified on the expectation that DAB would replace analogue FM and AM stations, and that the associated spectrum would be released for new wireless services. Canada adopted the Eureka 147 standard for DAB, which was widely accepted by European countries and others. In response to the interest of broadcasters to offer some non-broadcasting services using DAB broadcasting facilities, the Canadian Radio-television Television Commission (CRTC, 1996) and the Department (1997) made provisions to permit a limited amount of non-programming services.

Starting in the late 1990s, the CRTC licensed 76 DAB stations in Toronto, Windsor, Montréal, Vancouver, Victoria and Ottawa. In addition, the CRTC approved a stand-alone ethnic commercial radio station. After a promising start, the roll-out of DAB has virtually come to a stop and some stations have ceased operation. The marginal development of DAB services in Canada can be attributed to several factors.
• First, consumers have only had limited access to high-priced DAB receivers.
• Secondly, the United States, with its influential market, is implementing HD digital technologies on the shoulders of the analogue FM and AM channels.
• Most European countries have implemented DAB services in the VHF band III (174-230 MHz) instead of the anticipated L-band. Only a few countries have pursued DAB in the L-band. The success in such countries has been quite limited.
• Furthermore, Canada used a different channelling system that required the few receivers imported to Canada to be customized for this small market.

An ongoing concern of Canadian broadcasters has been the inability to broadcast a significant level of new programming on DAB stations in order to attract subscribers during the transition phase. Moreover, as digital radio was implemented in only a few cities, without contiguous coverage over major transport corridors, car manufacturers are not installing DAB receivers in new vehicles for sale in Canada. Since then, with the availability of two subscription digital radio satellite services, the Canadian automobile manufacturers have proceeded to install satellite digital radio receivers in new vehicles.

In 2006, the CRTC launched a public review of its commercial radio policy, which included a review of the L-band DAB transition policy. It culminated in a new licensing model being adopted for digital radio broadcasting (Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2006-160). Some of the findings related to digital broadcasting and to the decision aspects with respect to this spectrum review are as follows:
• the offering of new and innovative program content may raise consumer interest for DAB services, but technical quality alone will not drive demand;
• the FM and AM frequency bands will be needed in the future for radio broadcasting, and HD radio digital broadcasting could further enhance the importance of this spectrum for over-the-air radio broadcasting;
• the transition model of replacing analogue FM and AM stations with L-band DAB is no longer a tenable objective.

In summary, several impediments will continue to affect the implementation of DAB services under the new licensing model, such as:
• the lack of affordable L-band DAB receivers;
• the lack of factory-installed DAB receivers in new vehicles;
• the U.S. market influence of digital radio services using HD radio technology on existing analogue FM and AM channels; and
• the European market influence of having adopted DAB service in the VHF Band III (174-230 MHz) and their review of the L-band spectrum for a variety of technologies and service applications.

The Canadian government’s policy that DAB radio “is no longer a replacement for analogue AM and FM services” follows on from US policy in debate that FM radio will be the universal radio platform to be included in all mobile phone handsets. There is an important lesson for the UK market in the Canadian conclusion that “the offering of new and innovative program content may raise consumer interest for DAB services, but technical quality alone will not drive demand.

DAB radio’s death in Canada is demonstrated by World DMB’s country page for Canada not having been updated since September 2008, while the last news entry on Canada’s own digital radio website was posted in 2007. The world map has lost the largest country to have implemented DAB and the only country in the Americas.

1 comment:

Stephen B said...

This is deeply disappointing, and it is hard not to wonder if this kind of planning disaster wasn't deliberate from the start.

It pains me to see how difficult it is for human beings to agree on global standards. It is like the old days of PAL and SECAM, whose impetus seemed more political than technical.