ACMA flags digital radio standards

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The Australian Communications and Media Authority has moved to clarify the future of digital radio in this country.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has moved to clarify the future of digital radio in this country.

The government body has announced it will initially use the Eureka 147 digital audio broadcasting (DAB) standard to make VHF Band III spectrum available for wide-coverage applications.

However, the ACMA has additionally suggested that a dual standard is to emerge with the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) standard also likely to be approved for wider-coverage terrestrial services in regional areas.

According to ACMA broadcast engineering manager, Alistair Gellatly, the decision to run with two standards would not create further confusion.

"DAB is the leading standard around the world and there’s been good take up in the UK for a number of years," he said. "DRM is better at covering larger areas so it’s good for rural Australia. It comes down to coverage versus quality."

However with limited DAB and DRM spectrum band left to service digital radio, ACMA was faced with further questions around reserving vacant frequencies to ensure space for the expected introduction of digital radio.

“What this is about is looking forward to the digital future and assessing what the best use is for each part of the spectrum,” he said. “We’re keeping our options open.”

With DRM currently occupying the same frequency spectrum as AM services and DAB those of analogue TV, the ACMA wanted to be more cautious about spectrum allocation in the future, Gallatly said.

“In the past something like a narrow casting licence may have been sold relatively cheaply to a regional station,” he said. “In reality that spectrum may be have been put to better use with something like a wide-area ABC broadcast service.”

While the chief driver for the adoption of digital radio was improved broadcast quality, new service opportunities were also possible with the technology, Gellatly said.

“People are talking about including some data services in the broadcasts so you can receive jpegs, TAB results, stock reports on top of radio broadcasts,” he said.

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