James Cridland's blog

A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
This is an archive post from my old website. Not all links will work. For new posts, visit my main writing index.

« | Blog index | »

Goodbye, radio via 3G – we can't afford you

Posted on Friday, June 11th, 2010 at 6:51 pm. #

Money money money

The typical refrain of poor journalists and sub-grade radio consultants is that broadcast radio’s days are numbered. Talk to them and they’ll tell you not to bother with DAB, or HD, or whatever: because “the internet is the future of radio”.

In the US, 50% of total hours (TSL) is spent in a mobile situation, like in a car. In the UK, the figures are rather lower, but at least 25% of all total hours is spent listening to radio in a car. Yet, to my disbelief, they claim that the internet is the future even in a mobile environment.

Now, it seems, even the mobile operators are beginning to smell the coffee.

A while back, I linked to a French report that said that listening over mobile phones could be an impossibly costly broadcast medium for radio broadcasters.

Last week, AT&T, the US mobile phone network, removed its unlimited iPhone data tarrif. And yesterday, O2 removed unlimited data here in the UK. (Vodafone has never even offered it.)

New contracts – or upgrades to iPhone 4 – will limit your data usage. My 35-quid tarrif will only offer me 500MB of data a month, instead of unlimited data.

So, let’s do some maths. (Warning: maths isn’t always my strong point).

A 64kbps stream accounts for 8kB a second, or 480kB a minute – or, if you like it better, almost 5MB every ten minutes. (The rounding up’s fair when you assume radio is accompanied by additional metadata).

So, assuming I use my mobile phone’s data for NOTHING ELSE other than listening to the radio, I’ll get a thousand minutes – 16 hours – of radio listening a month out of it over 3G before having to pay extra.

The average amount of radio listened-to in the UK is 21.8 hours a week – 96 hours a month. The average amount of radio listened-to in the UK in a mobile environment is 24 hours a month: easily more than the 500MB cap on the new iPhone data contract. (And I believe people use their smartphones for other things, too).

Listening to radio over 3G will now cost our listeners money: or cost us our listeners.

It’s always been clear that radio via 3G has never been able to replace broadcast radio in terms of technical quality: the coverage and contention levels simply aren’t adequate in most parts of the UK (or, I discovered last week, most parts of San Francisco either). But now it’s clear that we’ll not be able to afford to listen to radio in this way either.

While the internet’s great for niche listening or for on-demand programming, BROADCAST radio – whether FM, DAB, satellite or HD – is the best way to reach hundreds of thousands of people at the same time. This doesn’t mean a lack of a back-channel – technologies like RadioDNS allow you to connect broadcast radio with IP – so you can upgrade a listening experience when listening to FM radio on your mobile phone, for example.

The future of radio is a multiplatform future. But as we watch journalists or so-called ‘radio consultants’ trying to tell us that the internet is the only valid future platform for radio, AT&T and O2 have both now given us more reasons to point out that at best this is simply wrong, and at worst this is deeply misleading and dangerous to our industry’s future.

43 comments

James
commenting at June 11th, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Great article James. Enjoyed it very much. Recently bought a new micro home system, though with wifi connection, and LOVING the experience over listening via PC etc.

Sarah
commenting at June 11th, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Wifi?

Rod Lucas
commenting at June 11th, 2010 at 11:28 pm

James excellent blog, babies and bath water come to mind. Don’t throw em out yet:)OFCOM/BBC take note.

Rod Lucas
The Radio School

James Cridland
commenting at June 11th, 2010 at 11:32 pm

@Sarah – absolutely, wifi. Great platform. However, not while you’re in a car… a typical wifi hotspot is only a few hundred metres across (if you’re lucky), and hand-off between wifi points is not an entirely transparent operation.

Wifi also doesn’t get rid of the issue that actually, you’re trying to use a one-to-one medium to reach hundreds of thousands of people. It’s still a really bad way to do that. It is, however, excellent for niche content, on-demand stuff, and other things; it certainly fits into radio’s multiplatform future.

robert
commenting at June 11th, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Due to the exponential increase in bandwidth and usage, due to stuff like video, it is the idea of content limits that are unsustainable. Eventually, they’ll have to allow greater limits or be overtaken by some other provider who recognises a different, non-punitive charging model is the future. Alternatively, increasing deployment of community wifi, like WiMAX, is possible.

Internet gives me the choice of thousands of stations. It’s considerably cheaper and easier to start an internet radio station than to get on DAB, which is near impossible unless you’re very rich and you’re lucky enough that there’s spare capacity.

BTW If you want ‘misleading and dangerous’ it’s the industry’s ‘radio amnesty’ campaign which is designed to scare people in to switching over to DAB.

Brian
commenting at June 12th, 2010 at 5:17 am

Add Canada to the list of places that limit data on all mobile phone contracts. The beauty of radio is its lack of pretension or barriers to accessing audiences. Radio is cheap to export and cheap to produce in the media world. An “Internet-only” platform, even in the 21st century, cannibalizes many of radio’s listeners. Digital definitely offers many more avenues, and the Internet makes access easier for many, yet Radio in its pure beauty is not yet ready to turn its back on the traditions from which it came.

Nick
commenting at June 12th, 2010 at 6:55 am

James, I’m sure your above points are correct – now.

But what about in 10 years time? Think how far we’ve come in the last 10.

Briantist
commenting at June 12th, 2010 at 7:39 am

Ah, look, I was right again, we DO need a digital *broadcast* system.

Nick Piggott
commenting at June 12th, 2010 at 8:03 am

@Robert – to my knowledge, only 1 mobile WiMax network has even been fully consumer launched – Xohm – and that is struggling under poor performance and high infrastructure costs. Sometimes the enormous hype that these new technologies create is not matched by real life deployments. I would suggest many existing would be and wanna be wireless access providers are quietly relegating WiMAX to niche tasks, and hoping that LTE lives up to its promises.

In any case, bidirectional wireless technologies come at a hugely increased infrastructure cost because of the network density required to support hand held mobile devices with limited power availability. If you’re going to build a very expensive bidirectional network, you only get the costs back by charging at a rate consummate with bidirectional traffic flows and interactive applications. *Broadcast* radio will always be cheaper to distribute, because of fundamental physics.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at June 12th, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Despite being a highend HiFi/AV fanatic (i.e. Not a techno luddite), when I am outside my house I listen out for the birds, the mugger coming up behind me, the cyclist on the pavement, somebody saying good morning, an emergency services siren !!
I have watched kids walking along country lanes with ipods earpeices whilst texting on their mobiles – oblivious to what is going on in front of them, let alone behind them – and I wonder where all this commercially driven hardware is taking us (more debt, accidents or bankrupt C5?)

And as for DAB – what a joke – the signal is non existent where I live in Cornwall and when heard elsewhere it is a poor quality compared to my cheap FM tuner (with a roof top aerial) connected to the HiFi. Whatever happened to the principle of QUALITY NOT QUANTITY – not commercially viable I hear you say – sad.

My point being – forget about 3G, WiMax networks etc; just get the DAB coverage and transmitted bit rate into the land of the living (i.e. Outside the PR world of SE England) before switching off good old analogue FM (which seems the inevitable intention – no doubt for yet another HiTech/revenue generating reuse of the FM bandwidth.

Yes Victor Meldrew is alive and well, and living in Cornwall!

Brent Noorda
commenting at June 12th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Your math is good. My real-world testing using our RadioWeave service shows that your 500MB limit would deliver about 18 hours of listening per month (almost double that in lofi mode, but who wants to get lower quality audio?)

Here in the US AT&T is rolling out a lower price plan where $15/month gets just 200MB data per month, and $25/month caps at 2GB (where the old plan was $30/month for basically unlimited data).

dvice.com ran some good numbers on those AT&T plans here: http://bit.ly/boIGf2

The dvice numbers come out lower than yours or mine for Pandroa because Pandora usually streams at a very high bit rate (whereas my test was a mixture of hifi music and lower-fidelity talk radio). That article is also interesting for reminding us tremendously how much data is involved in downloading web pages.

The real world has its limitations and set backs, don’t it?

Terry Purvis
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

James, you are jumping up and down here proclaiming “I was right, radio distributed on the internet will not replace AM/FM/DAB”. Of course it won’t. But your argument is based on onerous conventional wisdoms which state that commercial media institutions (print, radio and TV) can use the Internet as a distribution method (and make money from doing so somewhere along the line).

But the very idea that is possible is a fantasy.

The Internet is the Internet. It has rules, advantages and dis-advantages, like everything else.

The number one rule is that it’s not compatible with traditional media production and distribution methods, nor with existing media business models.

In reality the Internet is an alien environment for any form of commercial media institution and is not for the likes of traditional radio companies to use as part of a “multi-platform” environment.

The quicker everyone leaves the conventional wisdom fantasies about media and the Internet behind the better.

Nick
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

@Terry_Purvis although of course, “the Internet” is only a distribution platform, but one that uses routed packets rather than circuit switching or broadcast. You need a business model that can leverage profit out of a different form of distribution/access. To date, the number of truly profitable companies achieving this with the Internet alone is very very small.

A significant number of respected commentators note that the Internet is more visibly helping incumbent businesses (of all forms) improve their products for existing customers. Amazon, after all, is only a mail-order catalogue on-line. I suspect Argos is a better company for having an e-tail website.

Should not the same apply to media businesses?

Terry Purvis
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

@Nick – No, the same does not apply to the media business which is, again, one of the convential conventional wisdoms.

Internet distribution is more than about routed packets.

Only Clay Shirky has got the problems every and any type of media institution faces with the Internet correctly forumlated. I suggest anybody who works in the media business starts taking what that man says very seriously and acts upon his conclusions if they feel the Internet is for them, or leave it well alone.

They create a very different scenario for media to that for companies like Amazon, Google or Argos on the Internet.

Yes, it is possible for a “media business” to be profitable on the Internet, but it doesn’t naturally follow that that business can be, or operate like, a “traditional” commercial media institution.

That’s why, despite all the hype, the “new media” institutions are not proving to be profitable.

The idea that a successful Internet media business requires heavy investment in infrastructure, technology and systems is the most common mistake.

In essence Internet is the domain of the individual, not the institution. And it is possible for the individual, either working alone or in a cooperative collective of individuals to compete and beat the biggest media giant on the Internet with no more hardware than a PC and an Internet connection.

The real problem with this though is convincing the individual, who has become blinkered by conventional wisdoms which say otherwise, that this is really the case, so I don’t expect anyone else to agree with either me or Clay Shirky. But it’s correct none the less.

Terry Purvis
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

@Nick – No, the same does not apply to the media business which is, again, one of the conventional wisdoms.

Internet distribution is more than about routed packets.

Only Clay Shirky has got the problems every and any type of media institution faces with the Internet correctly formulated. I suggest anybody who works in the media business starts taking what that man says very seriously and acts upon his conclusions if they feel the Internet is for them, or leave it well alone.

They create a very different scenario for media to that for companies like Amazon, Google or Argos on the Internet.

Yes, it is possible for a “media business” to be profitable on the Internet, but it doesn’t naturally follow that that business can be, or operate like, a “traditional” commercial media institution.

That’s why, despite all the hype, the “new media” institutions are not proving to be profitable.

The idea that a successful Internet media business requires heavy investment in infrastructure, technology and systems is the most common mistake.

In essence Internet is the domain of the individual, not the institution. And it is possible for the individual, either working alone or in a cooperative collective of individuals to compete and beat the biggest media giant on the Internet with no more hardware than a PC and an Internet connection.

The real problem with this though is convincing the individual, who has become blinkered by conventional wisdoms which say otherwise, that this is really the case, so I don’t expect anyone else to agree with either me or Clay Shirky. But it’s correct none the less.

Nick
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 1:28 pm

@Terry Apologies – the point I was trying to make was that the Internet is only a distribution technology, albeit one that opens up the potential for new business models.

Ultimately the “traditionalness” or otherwise of a successful business model is governed by what its customers will pay for, and not necessarily what the technology can enable. It may be that subset of the whole market *will* demand something only and solely achieved using IP distribution, but whether or not that is a *profitable* business segment in isolation has yet to be proven. (Indeed, my examples earlier were intended to demonstrate that there are currently few businesses requiring a pure IP-only model that are operating profitably).

Of course, with speculation comes much diversity of opinion, and those diverse opinions should be respected.

Terry Purvis
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

@Nick – no apology necessary. The only comments I have to make about your last remarks is that of course for commercial any media company those customers you talk about are the advertisers, because in the media business the product is and has always been the audience.

And there’s no speculation or debate as far as I’m concerned surrounding what it takes to be profitable in the “media” business on the Internet, it’s crystal clear.

David Board
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 7:22 pm

A common argument people make in favour of ditching broadcast radio and going for an IP only solution is that is the ‘future’.

Of course this is true, but we need solutions for the present, and broadcast radio is currently the only realistic way to reach a large audience without the broadcasters (and listeners) paying huge sums of money to get the hours they want (as this excellent article demonstrates).

Broadcast radio is the solution for NOW, even if it is not the solution that will be used in 10 years.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at June 13th, 2010 at 11:06 pm

@David – Spot on.

But alas bridges have been burnt by the failure that is currently DAB; the very low level of DAB radio sales (allegedly in the low 20% take-up)is evidence of an entrenched resistance by the public at large. And the reasons are not solely the poor quality / coverage. The average household may have as many as 3 or more AM/FM analogue radios (not just portables)and thus the reluctance to replace all of these for no real gain other than perhaps more choice of channels (certainly not quality) is understandable.

If the future in 10 years is so uncertain and the date for analogue switch-off is already on the back foot, then why not stick with FM until the wheels fall off or something considerably better comes along. Not forgetting there is still a recession apparently (so Mr.Osbourne would now have us believe)!

Next time round perhaps someone might realise that Avertising Revenue is not a bottomless pit and there is a finite amount of income that can be spread across a myriad of commercial channels. And as for “Pay as you Listen” god help us!!

Andreas Dalane
commenting at June 15th, 2010 at 7:38 pm

We welcome the future for radio with LTE networks.

LTE will be the killer broadband wireless network, support for MBSFN (Multicast Broadcast Single Frequency Network). This feature can deliver services such as Mobile TV using the LTE infrastructure, and is a competitor for DVB-H-based TV broadcast. LTE is also an All IP network. LTE supports
data rates up to 100 MB/s but LTE-Advanced supports 1 GB/s…. pluss OFDM for the downlink speed…

Please read what FCC will do to solve the bandwith issue:
http://download.broadband.gov/plan/national-broadband-plan.pdf

And with LTE, this will be the reallity world:
http://jalopnik.com/5509766/worlds-first-ipad-in-car

The future will include TV but it seem like the future forgot radio….

Nick
commenting at June 16th, 2010 at 8:03 am

@Andreas I’m still not sure the future for radio is on LTE.

LTE does have *technical* solutions, including the use of a Single Frequency Network mode, with OFDM. (Incidentally, almost identical transmission characteristics to DAB/DAB+). UMTS has a similar “multicast mode”. So prima facie, they look like a candidates for radio broadcast.

But let’s go back to the *economics* of the situation. An LTE network is going to very dense, involving a lot of expensive base stations. LTE terminal equipment needs to be manufactured to high tolerances, using relatively expensive front-end components and relatively powerful DSPs. Power consumption is tricky due to the relatively wide bandwidth of LTE. And there’s certainly been few credible suggestions of 99% population coverage of any country using LTE. (Or 3G or WiMax for that matter).

That brings us back to the cost model for broadcast radio. It’s free for consumers, the equipment (even digital radios) are relatively cheap and simple to build, and relatively low in power consumption. That makes the prospect of $20 / £10 / €15 radios a reality in the next few years. The infrastructure covers large geographic areas, as well as high population densities. And it’s cheap. And we should consider who should determine the geographic coverage of a radio station – the network operator, or the radio station?

I’m not denying that LTE has been designed with a “broadcast” mode, but the LTE broadcast mode is still not as efficient as a genuine, dedicated broadcast radio network, using SFN and ODFM – two techniques that still remain contemporary almost 30 years after they were first conceived.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at June 16th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

@Andreas
Confused of Cornwall – Since it would appear DAB already uses a version of OFDM (COFDM), which is allegedly the “Future”, why is the quality/coverage CRAP ?

How does it perform in a fast moving car I wonder – perchance is there a minor technical glitch (doppler effect)since OFDM requires accurate frequency synchronization between the receiver and the transmitter?

No doubt a technical solution (other than multiple antenna arrays on a car) will be found, but at what cost and again who ultimately will be paying the “price” to make the business model work?
Pray tell me it is NOT PAY as you LISTEN for the bedside clock radio, the kitchen radio, the son`s minisystem, the garage radio?
In case the point is lost in all the techno blurb, let me put it simply – the majority of the population have too many FM radios in their homes/cars to contemplate total replacement in one go; so the “future” will have to run alongside the “past” for many years and if the “future” is Pay as you Listen” for no great technological leap in quality then people will drag their heels – hence the current round of adverts desperately trying to promote BAB (or should I say COFDM) by handing in your FM radio for an undisclosed discount.

Briantist
commenting at June 17th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

“why is the quality/coverage CRAP?”

The network is nowhere near finished. The roll out is planned to be done by 2030 at the moment.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at June 17th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

@Brian
Thank you, but this info would appear to conflict with the ukdigitalradio.com (“Digital One”) stated switch-off date for analogue radio of 2015 – does this mean there will be circa 15 years of no FM overlap for those of us in poor reception locations?
Also their website currently states that DAB already covers 90% of the population. Thus “roll out” by 2030 would mean another 20 years to achieve the remaining 10% which does stretch the bounds of credibility! Who is kidding who? (I know its not you).

James Cridland
commenting at June 17th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Honestly, the rubbish spread by anti-radio campaigners.

There is no switch-off planned.

Here’s what happens.

First, total digital radio listening has to get to over 50%. It’s less than 25% right now, and the BBC are performing considerably worse than commercial radio.

Second, the target date for this is 2013. I can’t see that happening.

Third, once the 50% has been hit, it’s then the government can decide to switch off some FM radio stations (like national FM radio and some of the big locals). The target date for this to happen is 2015.

If 50% has been reached in 2013, that means that FM switchoff could happen in 2015. Which, I might remind you, is the date of the next election, which has already been announced.

1. It would be a brave government to be responsible for forcing 45% of the population to buy a new set of radios for their minority-used sets in the house.
2. It would be a really brave industry to switch off a platform which still serves around 45% of its listeners.

Now, given that, I’d humbly submit to you that there is no chance of FM switchoff as one big hit.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that individual stations should be free to switch off analogue as soon as possible. Absolute reckon they might not bother reapplying for their AM licence. I wouldn’t blame them, since they’ve already hit the 50% figure, and their AM transmitters cost a huge amount. But: a big FM switchoff? Nah.

Now, continue stirring up false worries for people, but really, I can’t see anything to be worried about in the future. The future of radio is a multiplatform future.

Briantist
commenting at June 17th, 2010 at 9:42 pm

@Peter Wilkinson: To clarify, the BBC’s rollout plans for DAB were agreed with Arqiva in a massive deal in September 2006.

“As part of the deal, up to 160 new DAB transmitters will provide better coverage for BBC digital radio over the contract period, which last until 2023. ”

http://www.ukfree.tv/fullstory.php?storyid=1107051161

No new money has been allocated to change this, whatever the Digital Economy Act says.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at June 19th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Thank you James and Brian for the clarification – you can`t beat a good discussion for airing (no pun intended) some solid logical thinking – I just hope James that some MPs are also reading your blog and take note.
Finally, Brian do you know what the data broadcast rate will eventually be/is for DAB?? (I note that Linn Radio on the Web is already using 320kbps).

Briantist
commenting at June 19th, 2010 at 4:37 pm

@Peter Wilkinson: The mutliplex provide about 1.2Mb/s, and each radio stream needs between 64k (mono) and 192k (joint stereo).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/help/faq/dab_bitrates.shtml

However, it isn’t really fair comparing with online bitrates, as the codec used online are more efficient.

That’s why, of course, DAB+ would be useful, as the same bitrate gives better quality.

So, bitrates could be increased on DAB, but you would just get four 320kb/s on each multiplex.

James, when he was at the BBC, fixed it so that the iPlayer bitrates are the best, and there are also very good quality WindowsMedia streams.

http://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/streaming_programmes/real_wma_streams

If the BBC dump the Asian Network from DAB, then there will be more for Radios 1 and 2.

Mark Jones
commenting at June 19th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

The BBC rollout is for national networks only though. All BBC locals rely on the commercial multiplex operator who may not cover their entire TSA or even be on air yet.

Chris Brooks
commenting at June 24th, 2010 at 3:15 pm

There are other ways to deliver content on to mobile phones. Our new iphone app (on the app store under “yellowmedia”) downloads the content to your phone, at the beginning when you first load,(wifi) this means it doesn’t stream (in fact you can continue to listen on airplane mode) This doesn’t enable radio stations to just copy their existing FM outputs on to the phone, but enables them to put their brand onto another platform. I suppose like Absolute 8′s and 90′s. As you say its all about putting your brand onto multi – platforms. Maybe more threatening is that any brand radio or not, can now use this to put their brand onto another platform..

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at July 5th, 2010 at 9:44 pm

James, Brian
The Multi-platforms approach may be under threat – Ed Vaizey, the Gov Minister responsible for Broadcasting will be making an announcement this Thursday in the House of Commons about the Gov`s plans for “digital radio switchover”.
Apparently the new ConLib administration is in favour of the switchover sooner rather than later!

Mr.Vaizey`s email address is vaizeye@parliament.uk

Suggest sending him some enlightenment as to the necessity to maintain FM as part of a multi-platform; especially while both coverage and quality (very low bit rates)remain so abysmal.

James Cridland
commenting at July 5th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Peter,

The ConLib administration isn’t getting rid of FM. It’ll still be part of the radio landscape.

The audio quality of DAB is perfectly acceptable to most, and for most stations is considerably better than anything but a perfect FM signal. Using the word ‘abysmal’ next to DAB’s audio quality betrays a lack of understanding about the subject matter.

James Cridland
commenting at July 8th, 2010 at 12:51 am

On Jun 15, 1:12 am, Richard Evans wrote:
> I was a little amused seeing all the comments on his blog agreeing with
> him. Are they all Cridland followers, who believe anything he tells
> them, or is it just that he deletes all the negative comments. I suspect
> a bit of both.

Hi, Richard: I don’t delete negative comments. I publish all of them (with the exception of spammy stuff like “Great blog post!” where the user is called “Great Holiday Discounts” of course). I’ll even publish this reply on there, just to make it clear.

On Jun 14, 9:47 pm, “Anders NET” wrote:
re http://james.cridland.net/blog/goodbye-radio-via-3g-we-cant-afford-you/
> Maybe he has not read the FCC broadband plan “Connecting America”.http://download.broadband.gov/plan/national-broadband-plan.pdf
> LTE will be the killer broadband wireless network, support for MBSFN
> (Multicast Broadcast Single Frequency Network). This feature can deliver
> services such as Mobile TV using the LTE infrastructure, and is a competitor
> for DVB-H-based TV broadcast.
>
> If Cridland would mind, I will not use his advices… he dont know what he
> is talking about.

Hi, Anders. Someone called ‘Andreas’ commented with something similar in the comments, so I guess that’s you. I didn’t comment to it, but happy to do so.

I’ve not read the FCC broadband plan, you’re right – in the main, because the US marketplace is so different, little of what they do is relevant to Europe. But I’m very aware of future technologies such as LTE. The thing that concerns me about it is that it’s still a “plan” right now, which means that it’s years away from actually happening; and you’d be a brave person to bet the future of a large chunk of radio listening – 25% or so – on something which is outside the radio industry’s control.

If you’re suggesting that LTE’s the main platform for mobile radio reception in the future, then my questions might be…

- Who pays for the infrastructure? The mobile phone companies are hardly likely to build it for fun, so either the radio industry – or the consumer – will have to pay. (No idea what the costs would be either, but I’m betting that it’ll be rather higher than FM or DAB).

- Who works out who gets on? MBSFN bandwidth will be limited, too – so, who’ll work out who gets on the platform and who doesn’t? FM or DAB are both regulated to ensure some kind of listener choice: is this relevant in this area as well? Is there some kind of must-carry obligation? Is it okay to have a radio platform without BBC local radio, for example?

- How cheap will the receivers be? £35 for a clock radio is still considered too high for many people. Or is this an additional platform only for use while mobile?

- And will reception coverage really be comparable to traditional broadcast radio? Lots of little transmitters versus one big stick? Particularly, will it reach into enough places to make it sensible for mobile reception in-car? (For over half of my 30-minute journey home today, I had no access to 3G, years after its initial rollout: particularly acute to me today, since I was attempting to listen to Spotify).

Happy to engage in a sensible debate about this; for which, please do comment on the blog. You’ll find this reply there.

Terry Purvis
commenting at July 8th, 2010 at 1:02 am

@Richard – I rarely, if ever, agree with James on this blog on his assessment of Internet Radio, but he respects my opinions, posts my comments and engages in sensible debate with that alternative viewpoint.

What more can one ask?

There’s no “followers” on here.

Richard Evans
commenting at July 9th, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Well you suggested I post reply to the blog, so here goes.

The thing that did strike me about all this is that you seem to have based everything on the 3G networks as they are today.

Now I’m not saying that mobile broadband will definitely change in a way that makes it ideal for internet radio, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.

Now I’d better confess at this point, that I don’t know all the details about all the new technologies. However I can see 2 main ways in which things could improve.

Firstly more advanced transmission systems, substantially increasing the data capacity in a given channel. That on it’s own probably wouldn’t be enough if everything was unicast.

But then why couldn’t they devise a system that broadcasts the most heavily used web streams, so that many users in the area could receive the same stream using the same bandwidth. Obviously existing protocols such as IP are not designed to work this way, so some new protocols would probably need to be invented. So why not invent them. For example, a mobile device could send a request via IP to say that it wants to connect to a stream, and then the mobile network could send a reply to tell the mobile how to connect to it. Either by connecting to a broadcasts channel, or by a unicast channel, which ever was the more appropriate for that particular stream.

There is of course the question of who will pay for such a system, and why. Well the new technologies would benefit the mobile phone companies. Why stay using the old 3G system when newer technologies will allow them to connect more customers, and hence make more money. Both increasing capacity, and using broadcast channels, would drive down the cost per customer. Allowing them to offer more services to more people, and hence make more money.

Also as technology makes it cheaper to provide services, mobile phone companies would want to start offering better value packages, to compete with the other mobile phone companies.

Now I realise that this is all probably many years into the future, and a lot of things could happen in that time. So none of this is certain. But I think it is a mistake to rule it all out, just because the 3G networks of today aren’t up to the task.

Richard Evans
commenting at July 9th, 2010 at 7:16 pm

@James

I’ve just read your comment about DAB sound quality:

“The audio quality of DAB is perfectly acceptable to most, and for most stations is considerably better than anything but a perfect FM signal. Using the word ‘abysmal’ next to DAB’s audio quality betrays a lack of understanding about the subject matter.”

Well perhaps you are not listening to the same DAB that used to drive me mad. I think Abysmal is an appropriate description for DAB sound quality, and just to prove that I do understand the subject matter:

DAB is based upon the mp2 codec, which needs about 256k to provide good sound quality for music. But with DAB they mostly use about 1/2 that.

So to make DAB work at only 128k they have to use intensity stereo, which is basically mono with a parameter for each sub band to decide the position of the sound between left and right. This creates a horrible flat quality to the stereo image, because all the phase information is lost.

The intensity stereo only works on the higher frequencies, but is still very noticeable. I tried listening to DAB for about 18 months, and found it increasingly trying to listen to. Then when I gave up and switched back to FM it sounded so soothing and easy to listen to compared to DAB.

In the end I didn’t need technical knowledge to notice what my own ears tell me, that DAB sounds horrible. But as it happens I do understand the reasons why DAB sounds horrible.

James Cridland
commenting at July 9th, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Thanks for the comments.

“The thing that did strike me about all this is that you seem to have based everything on the 3G networks as they are today. Now I’m not saying that mobile broadband will definitely change in a way that makes it ideal for internet radio, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.”
…absolutely, I think we’re agreed. However, given that the 3G networks aren’t even ubiquitous today (3G isn’t even consistently available on the M25!) would tend to indicate that this is many years in the future, and it’s a tremendous risk to bet the future of the entire radio industry on the mobile networks implementing “new protocols which would probably need to be invented”. That’s why I haven’t done it.

In terms of audio quality: it would appear you believe ‘abysmal’ to mean something different than I do, or the majority of the listening public (who increase their radio listening after purchasing a DAB radio). I can hear the digital-ness of a DAB signal, and it does sound ‘different’ to FM; but ‘abysmal’ it isn’t. However, I’m pleased that, unlike others who frequent alt.radio.digital with you, you’re not trying to claim that DAB sounds worse than AM.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at July 10th, 2010 at 12:51 am

@Richard

Indeed there may well be merit in your vision of the future of 3G system networks but are you also hinting at a Pay as you Listen scenario?

Nevertheless relieved to know that one does not necessarily need a degree in broadcast engineering to appreciate what ones ears tell you! From the moment I first heard DAB on a high end Arcam unit at the Bristol HiFi show a few years back, I thought that it was a backward leap in sound quality compared to FM.

An inappropriate observation I hear James muttering, but perhaps one needs to be outside of the wood to see the trees. Obviously one would not make the same comparison to AM (Amplitude Modulated as distinct from Frequency Modulated).

DAB does have some technical merit, despite its MPEG2 origins,such as transmitter overlap/combining without phase anomalies. However the extent of data reduction (MUSICAM system) employed by broadcasters is way in excess of that recommended by the BBC`s own R & D engineers back in 1994 when they stated the minimum bit rate for digital STEREO broadcasting to be 190kbps; below which all sorts of audible nasties would manifest themselves. Current transmissions ranging from 80 to 120kbps thus being a contributory factor to the ABYSMAL quality compared to FM that some of us can hear. I hasten to add I do not expect Bernie Grundman or Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs mastering quality, just something better than FM for the exercise to be worthwhile.

Thus I am not adverse to progress but when DAB, as currently implemented, is falsely promoted (just listen to the adverts over the last few years) by the industry as an improvement over FM in order to boost sales, I sense commercial exploitation and manipulation. I wonder how many of those dedicated DAB radios sold have been returned for a refund (as per my son`s)and how many of those combined DAB/FM radios sold are merely used in FM mode out of desperation! Neither statistic will ever be recorded let alone officially voiced and we will eventually have DAB by default at a theoretical sale threshold of 51% digital radio units in use (2015 or later).

Nevertheless some comfort can be taken from the Minister`s (Mr.Vaizey`s) statement yesterday that all future DAB chipsets are to incorporate a DAB+ module, although no DAB+ broadcast commitment is being made at this stage. Possibly a case of paying lip service to current criticisms but only time will tell.

Whatever the future outcome, 3G and other internet based technologies included, FM will indeed continue, as James has rightly said, BUT only for local radio stations – there will not be any National service.

James Cridland
commenting at July 10th, 2010 at 12:56 am

As an aside, this is a piece about radio over 3G, and nothing to do with DAB bitrates (or, indeed, DAB at all). According to my swanky new commenting policy, please note that I’ll remove further comments about DAB here.

Richard Evans
commenting at July 10th, 2010 at 1:16 am

@James
So I suppose I won’t get the chance to justify my earlier comments without my explanation being deleted. Hummm…..
Well perhaps we will have to agree to disagree about that, and I would like to make it very clear that I defiantly don’t agree with your views on that subject.

@Peter Wilkinson
I’m assuming, that the reason for mobile operators currently backing away from unlimited mobile broadband, is the cost of providing data capacity. Basically they can’t afford to do it at the moment. However the different mobile operators are competing with each other for customers, and most people would prefer an unlimited connection. So if better technologies make it more affordable to provide it, then perhaps we will eventually see unlimited services being offered. Or perhaps broadband with a higher download limit, that does allow people to listen to a reasonable amount of internet radio. Who knows, we will have to wait and see what happens.

Richard Evans
commenting at July 10th, 2010 at 1:32 pm

@Peter Winkinson

Just a small point about multiple antennas on a car.
You said “No doubt a technical solution (other than multiple antenna arrays on a car)”

Personally although I’m against using multiple antennas at lower frequencies I think it is perfectly acceptable at 3G frequencies, where the wavelength is much smaller. If I understand correctly 3G uses frequencies a bit higher than 2Ghz. A few calculations give the wavelength at 2Ghz to be about 15cm, so a 1/4 wave antenna would have a length of just 3.75 cm, and spacing between antennas, in a multi antenna system would also be something similar to this.

So rather than having to fit multiple antennas to a car, you could be fitting just one small plastic box that would already have the multiple antennas built into it.

I’m sure somebody could design an elegant looking small plastic box to go on a car, perhaps a small aerodynamic looking fin or something. I don’t see that being a being problem.

Peter Wilkinson
commenting at July 11th, 2010 at 5:40 pm

@Richard

Thankyou for the antenna calculation; smaller than I had assumed – no doubt future boy racers will opt for two fins joined together with a wing!

DVB-T2-Lite – a case of the BBC reinventing the wheel? - James Cridland
commenting at July 27th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

[...] Today Friday, Justin Mitchell at BBC R&D explained how they were slipping a broadcast signal designed for cars and mobiles (DVB-T2-Lite) into the gaps in the Freeview High Definition signal (DVB-T2). This is important not just because of the areas of poor bandwidth the mobile mapping experiment is looking into, but – says James Cridland – 3G bandwidth is too expensive for even casual radio listening. [...]

This is an archive site, and comments are now closed.