DAB radio was originally sold as the natural successor to AM and FM radio in the UK, providing better audio quality, easier tuning and extra station information. It's been a mixed bag though, with patchy coverage and many radio stations broadcasting in low bit-rates. The problem partly lies in the UK's infrastructure -- the existing transmitters and data streams lack the capacity to offer so many stations at a higher audio quality. The first commercial, national "multiplex" for DAB radio is already full and while a second is in the works, Ofcom wants to explore how service can be improved at the local level. It goes beyond the UK government's promise to part-fund new transmitters by 2016.
Buying access to smaller multiplex operators is expensive for local radio stations, so today Ofcom is announcing new trials for smaller, cheaper DAB transmitter setups across the UK. They'll cover no more than 40 percent of existing local DAB multiplexes, and offer smaller commercial stations the chance to broadcast digitally to nearby listeners. If the nine-month trials are successful, it could result in more local DAB stations and closer parity with the choice on AM/FM airwaves. Should the UK government ever switch off analog radio, supporting community-centric stations will be vital in order to win over public opinion.
[Image Credit: Highways Agency, Flickr]