Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Whats next for radio?

What's next for radio?

As the UK lumbers along with its early 1990s technology, DAB, there may be one solitary development. An applicant for the next chain of national DAB franchises has promised that PART of the peace will be used for the much newer DAB+.  Thats the method of transmitting radio stations that the rest of the world uses - you get better quality and more stations, but even that seems about to be replaced by newer technology.

There have been suggestions that all terrestrial radio is obsolete, and that satellite delivery will be the future source. Well, they have been saying that since the 1980s, but so far no satellite-only radio service has ever looked like breaking through in Europe.
Image result for sirius satellite radioIn the USA they have SIRIUS, which is a bouquet of satellite channels. It worked in many of the far open spaces where you couldn't get many regular radio stations. Sirius offers 80 or 140 channels, but at a price. Its a new radio and either $15 or $20 a month. A rival network (XM) was readily absorbed into Sirius and they now have 21 million paying subscribers.  It wouldn't work in Europe, especially the UK, as most of the US is a lot further south meaning it gets a stronger signal from the satellites. The UK is too far north to get reliable signals from geostationary satellites in cars.

Web Radio
Some have suggested that we might get all radio in future via the internet. Here the sheer capacity, or rather lack of it, of the UK networks is the big obstacle.  In the rest of the world the word 'Superfast broadband' now means 25MB or faster, but in the UK the IPs sell us a 12 MB service and call it 'superfast', which it isn't!

If you take the entire UK broadband networks and use them for radio, the amount needed wouldn't cope at the off-peak times of day, and at peak radio listening time (generally around 8am) it would be overloaded by a factor of 7. Thats just for those listening at home - in cars there is some limited (and in most places, VERY limited) internet capacity  available.  The radio stations doing well on satellite currently will agree that at times internet capacity can barely cope, so the idea to move radio across to that as a medium re just being unrealistic.

Radio on mobiles
4G is barely readable in city centres, and very hit and miss in the suburbs. In the countryside its just non-existent. I live on the edge of a 500,000 population urban sprawl (called Hull) and can't get a sniff of the 4G, which is less than 5 miles from me - I can see it if I stand on the roof! My 3G service (from O2, which I would suggest avoiding at all costs) is not much better - intermittent upstairs, and barely seen on the ground floor - and I'm 140 feet asl. I would dread having to rely on our solitary monopolistic internet provider for my radio services - my service drops to a crawl of about 1MB for hours around this time of day, although they have tantalisingly been promising us fibre for the last three or four years.

Apple launched iTunes Radio over a year ago but it still hasn't made it to the UK. I keep hearing whispers they are planning to make it even bigger by having SPEECh content, that goes with the music.  This may well be so as in the last few days Zane Lowe has left Radio 1 to join them.  One of the best New Zealand broadcasters we ever got in the uK, maybe he will steer them to huge success with iTunes Radio?

It seems that we had better stick to regular ether airwaves for now. Some say the FM band is closing in 2015, but these are the same guys who produced that satellite would take over all radio about 30 years ago.

I will bet anyone that we shall still be listening to FM radio stations on the same FM radios in at least 2020, probably much further beyond.  Short Wave and Medium Wave will still be there too, so don't be panicked into buying whatever the industry pundits try and force on you.

When you know what makes a radio tick, you'll buy a Bulova! 

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