James Cridland

Will we see DAB plus in the UK?

Quentin Howard holds both presidency of WorldDMB, and is CEO of the UK commercial multiplex owner Digital One.

Quentin says in an interview:

BBC interviewer: What is DAB+ going to mean, and have people wasted their money? Quentin Howard: The answer is nothing in this country. DAB+ is an additional standard that has been passed by the WorldDMB organisation for use in countries who haven’t started DAB yet. It doesn’t affect anything in this country, and Ofcom, who you talked about earlier in the programme, there’s their technical standards and the advertisement for the next national multiplex [he holds up two Ofcom documents]; they both specifically say that you can’t use DAB+ in this country, only the existing standard.

Quentin’s Ofcom argument is entirely right - and kudos on him for his props. Accurately, Ofcom currently treat AAC+ (the technical standard behind DAB+) as ‘data’ and not as ’sound’. There’s nothing to stop me, or you, slinging a 64k AAC+ service onto a suitably free multiplex anywhere in the UK, under a data licence. Ofcom would take that 64k out of the proportion of a multiplex’s capacity that can be given over to data. Since it’s not recognised as a radio service, I’d have no radio licence, so music rights agreements are rather more painful; and there’s the small matter of no sets being available to pick the thing up, but the fact is that I could, if a multiplex owner let me, broadcast an AAC+ signal tomorrow: as long as you recognise that it’s not, technically speaking, a radio station.

But DAB+ will come to the UK, as I’ve said in the past. Let me qualify that - I do believe it’ll be quite some time coming; probably many years into the future. There should be absolutely no concern about buying a DAB set now, because it will receive radio for many, many years to come. The radio industry will not want to make over four million sets obsolete overnight. If you haven’t bought a DAB set, there is no point in waiting: buy one now, and enjoy many more radio stations, with more functionality (like programme schedules and live pause) and no frequencies to remember. Prices start from £39. I recommend Virgin Radio Classic Rock, Chill, and LBC - all digital-only stations in parts of the country.

Quentin does both his jobs very effectively, with a confident personal style and a clear vision. His appearance here, flagged as Digital One CEO, was a typically bullish and polished performance. It may be entirely correct for the Digital One CEO to claim that the Digital One multiplex will never use DAB+ - it’s his multiplex, and he’s in charge. It is similarly correct to claim that there are no plans to bring DAB+ to the UK. There are none. At all.

However, it is a WorldDMB standard. If Ofcom sanctions DAB+, and if there is interest from broadcasters, and if the market conditions are right (ie enough compatible sets in the market), it will happen. It’s peculiar for the man who helped get the DAB+ standard through his own WorldDMB organisation to claim it won’t ever be a broadcast standard in this country; but I don’t believe he did this on purpose. Journalists, as I’m to discover again tomorrow at a Guardian conference, have a canny knack of putting even the cleverest people off-message.

Disclosure: I am responsible for additional programme-related broadcast data around my employer’s audio programmes across new platforms, which include Digital One and other DAB multiplexes. My employer is not a WorldDMB member and has a multi-platform policy. I never blog here on behalf of my employer; I am quite capable of independent thought occasionally.

Note from the future: Folder Media’s Fun Kids was the first to broadcast on DAB+ in September 2014. DAB+ is in use across the UK these days, including Digital One.

Editorial note: I’ve edited this to remove the mention of an anti-DAB campaigner.