Ofcom plans massive increase in DAB

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom has set out proposals that will allow the vast majority of existing BBC and commercial radio stations to move to digital services. If approved, operators will be able to bid for a broadcasting licence in late 2006 with the awards announced in early 2007.

Under the plans, the industry regulator plans a major increase in Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) that currently offers local and national free-to-air services that can be received both in the home and on portable radios throughout the country.

Ofcom predicts that over time, the great majority of listeners will want to move to digital radio services in much the same way as TV viewers are currently migrating to Freeview and other digital platforms. The advantage of digital radio is that it offers a greater choice of stations, easier tuning and the potential for data services. In the future, digital radio will appear on a number of different platforms. Already available on DAB radios and digital television, it is increasingly being accessed via the Internet and one day by mobile phone.

Ofcom plans to allocate three blocks of VHF Band III spectrum for new local DAB multiplexes. If the plan is accepted, it means that up to 74 existing local FM and AM analogue services will have the chance to move over to DAB.

The plan will also allow all local and regional BBC radio stations to move from analogue to digital, as well as those commercial radio stations that account for 95 per cent of listeners.

The watchdog also hopes to create a second smaller commercial national DAB multiplex, which could enable the transmission of up to 10 digital services. This additional DAB service would be earmarked to cater for minority tastes and interests that are not currently catered for by the existing commercial broadcasters.

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