The European Broadcasting Union's “Digital Radio Summit,” held in Geneva on Feb. 12 reflected the significant interest in digital radio across Europe.
The summit, which takes place during a week when the EBU also hosts meetings for digital radio industry groups, attracted a full house and offered insight into digital radio adoption from a number of international speakers
Opening the day, Annika Nyberg Frankenhauser, the EBU's media director, cited the example of Finnish public service broadcaster YLE's failure to implement digital radio in the country in the late 1990s, blaming the broadcaster’s inability to cooperate with its commercial radio colleagues. “To drive digital radio, cooperation is key,” she said, in a speech that outlined some of the work that the EBU is currently involved with.
Throughout Europe, countries that are pursuing a digital radio strategy are doing so using DAB+ in Band III. An increase in choice is cited as being the main consumer benefit, as well as sound quality benefits in comparison to AM broadcasts. For multichannel national and regional broadcasters, DAB+ offers reductions in transmission costs and spectrum use.
Digital switchover — closing FM broadcasting in favor of digital — is planned in various European countries. This would mean that most large broadcasters would switch to digital radio exclusively, although some small broadcasters would still have access to the FM band. Some EU states are discussing target dates for switchover as well as conditions for analog to be turned off.
The mobile phone was also a subject of much debate. Javier Sánchez, director of Technical Strategy at Spanish public broadcaster RNE, outlined the EBU’s intention to work with the Universal Smartphone Radio Project. The project, which comprises members from the United States, Australia and Europe, seeks to standardize APIs to radio chips inside mobile devices.
This would ensure broadcast radio is available on a mobile phone and allow apps to use off-air reception as well as Internet streaming. It was noted that activation of FM chips inside mobile phones by manufacturers is decreasing, blamed on a poor user experience. Many speakers dismissed claims that the mobile phone network will replace broadcasting.
Nick Piggott, chair of the RadioDNS Hybrid Radio project, announced that hybrid radio had been incorporated into a range of Samsung smartphones in Europe and Asia. The newly released Samsung Galaxy Express 2 LTE, the Galaxy Core Advance and the Galaxy Grand 2 include RadioDNS Hybrid Radio functionality as standard, enabling a significantly improved FM tuner app with visual accompaniment, interaction and automatic FM-to-internet following.
A packed program, which offered plenty of evidence of collaboration, the EBU Digital Radio Summit clearly demonstrated that the radio industry is increasingly working together across Europe and with other global broadcasters on its digital future.