Data-over-DAB: GWR/BT partnership announced

The widespread understanding of DAB is in its use to provide the next generation of radio and many have found the advantages that the CD-quality audio broadcast bring.

We at Digital-Lifestyles have been excited about using DAB to broadcast data efficiently to many devices since 2002 when it first came to our attention. DAB has a theoretical total output of up to 1.7 Mbits per second and has the major advantage that is broadcast. The costs of distribution of content is fixed, no matter how many people receive it, – the opposite to other data delivery channels such as GRPS or 3G.

Last year we saw a number of devices being demonstrated at IBC2003, some which used GSM and DAB, others combined GPRS and DAB, all featured the receipt of data over DAB and the provision of a back channel over the cellular services.

A number of trials have also been run. There was a six month trial in the UK which started in October 2003, run by Capital Radio PLC, NTL Broadcast and RadioScape Ltd which delivered Dolby 5.1 surround sound over live Internet Protocol (IP) datacasting using the Windows Media 9 Pro CoDec.

Today we are pleased to see that UK broadcaster GWR and BT wholesale have come together to create a new digital multi-media UK broadcast operation. The new entity will create mobile broadcast services to deliver multi-media content such as news, sports and entertainment. They plan to launch a London-wdie service during 2005, and expand across the Uk in 2006.

The new venture will utilise Digital One’s digital broadcasting capacity, running alongside eight national digital radio stations. Digital One is 63% owned by GWR. The rest of details for the deal are fairly complex and we would suggest reading the press release to get a full understanding, but GWR are confident of additonal earnings from it with an estimated £5m in the year ending March 2008.

Data over DAB sounds like a great idea – it is but sadly there are currently a couple of obstacles to everyone receiving broadband-type delivery speeds of content to portable handsets.

The most significant is that enshrined in UK law is a restriction on the balance between the bandwidth that must be used audio broadcast and that for data. The original 1996 Broadcasting Act specified that data must take up no more that 10% but in a 1998 review by the Secretary of State this was changed 20% of the multiplex over a 24 hours period. Glyn Jones, Operations Director of Digital One told Digital-Lifestyles that through negotiation with the UK regulator OFCOM they have agreed to alter their licence by changing two of the radio services original included Digital One’s licence – a rolling news service from ITN and a financial information service from Bloomberg – which were withdrawn in 2002. They will be replaced with the GWR/BT wholesale service and Digital One is confident that this will not exceed their 20% data allocation.

DAB receiver cards have been developed as add-ons for portable devices, but there will be a delay before it becomes mass market as the DAB chipsets need to be incorporated into mobile phones and devices before it can really fly.

Keep your eye on this one. We feel it is still a very exciting means of wide spread delivery of content.


Examples of possible services provided by GWR/BT:

News and sport: – There would be no need to dial-up to find out the news & sport. Every time the user picks up the device the very latest information will be available to browse. It is similar to having a news portal on the phone without the need to pay each time the user wants to look at it nor the wait to dial-up and down load information. It is already there and can be used 24/7 for a low fixed fee.

Traffic congestion: – Breaking traffic and travel updates would be always available on the phone or PDA, ready to be checked when the user is on the move. There would be no need to dial-up each time to discover delays, the information is constantly pushed onto the phone memory and can be accessed for a low fixed cost. The latest information replaces out of date information automatically making it very efficient and simple to use.

Live entertainment device – the mobile phone or PDA becomes a live entertainment device as it will automatically receive games downloads and movie previews to be played at any time. Games can be played at any time with others using the mobile phone connection as well as movie clips forwarded.

Stock market information – the PDA could have a stock market ticker and share updates constantly refreshing. There is no need to dial-up for the latest business and financial information as it is directly broadcast to the device.

GWR Press release – GWR and BT create mobile digital datacasting operation