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March 18, 2018 10:11 am  #1


What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if Digital Audio Broadcasting hadn’t died such a disastrous death in this country when it had the backing of CHUM and others several years ago.
 
The question takes on new meaning after the technology caught on in parts of Europe, especially Norway, which shut down all its analog stations on January 11, 2017. It was a controversial move, especially since it made every older radio in the country obsolete in one fell swoop.
 
Now comes word that no less a broadcasting institution than the BBC has decided not to turn off all its FM signals, despite plans to do so, arguing it’s simply too soon to make such a sweeping change in Britain.
 
BBC scraps plans to turn off FM radio signals that would have forced millions of listeners to tune into digital
 
The Daily Mail article linked above is filled with a slew of comments from the public complaining DAB brings with it terrible reception issues in outlying areas, problems with weather-outages, the expense of radio replacement and a general overall feeling that if it ain’t broke, why fix it. Yet there’s little question that DAB has vastly expanded the number of stations available in the U.K., a place that at one time depended on pirate outlets to bring Top 40 music to the masses.
 
And while so-called HD Radio has finally made its tentative presence felt in Canada, every single time it’s simply been used to rebroadcast or expand the reach of an existing AM station, instead of what they did in Europe, giving birth to a host of new formats. (You can see a list of just some of the available stations here.) (Sorry, but hearing CFRB or 640 in digital quality, while welcome, is certainly not worth the expense of having to buy a new radio.)
 
So what might have happened if DAB had worked here? We may never know, but it’s clear that so far, broadcasting companies have given consumers in this country no real incentive to go out and buy an HD Radio-capable receiver. We can only wonder what Canada's industry would look like if they’d done it a long time ago when they had the chance.

From the CBC in 2017:

Digital has not killed the radio frequency in Canada — yet

 

March 18, 2018 10:06 pm  #2


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

DAB's problem was the same as AM Stereo's.
Lack of receivers.
And public adversity to having to buy a new radio.
I only ever saw two DAB car radios, both in radio station engineering shops there to monitor the on air DAB transmission.
Rat Shack sold some portables, they were pretty useless even in direct line of site to the transmitters.

 

March 18, 2018 10:49 pm  #3


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

Mike Cleaver wrote:

DAB's problem was the same as AM Stereo's.
Lack of receivers.
And public adversity to having to buy a new radio.
I only ever saw two DAB car radios, both in radio station engineering shops there to monitor the on air DAB transmission.
Rat Shack sold some portables, they were pretty useless even in direct line of site to the transmitters.

No experience at all with DAB but I owned a Sony FM/AM Stereo receiver and the reception on AM stereo was crap  and the better option to hear AM stations in stereo was hook up to cable FM.which did carry some AM stations in stereo.


Cool Airchecks and More:
http://www.lettheuniverseanswer.com/
 

March 19, 2018 8:37 am  #4


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

DAB via the L band, as successful as it has been in Europe, would never work in North America. That portion of the spectrum is used by the US Military. The US broadcasters  have gone to FM ( In Band On Channel) mostly in the Hybrid Digital model. This works reasonably well in terms of audio reproduction but lacks the bells and whistles a true DAB signal allows. No American usage of L band DAB means no integration for Canada, hence no will to make this work. It amazed me that Industry Canada and the CRTC jumped on this band wagon when there was never a possibility it was going to be feasible given the American restrictions. 
HD is an opportunity, when promoted properly, to increase diversity. Unfortunately most HD broadcasters see it as a way to redistribute their impaired AM signals. Best case of HD usage now is CJSA-FM at 101.3 in Toronto with 3 distinct programming options. Most new car owners are not even aware they have access to HD. Given the majority of radio tuning is in-car (for the time being), there is a lack of promotion of this technology by radio and car makers. HD can offer a place for niche programming such as the WAVE Smooth Jazz on both 94.7 and 95.9 FM HD channel 2.

 

March 19, 2018 9:48 am  #5


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

Bristol wrote:

DAB via the L band, as successful as it has been in Europe, would never work in North America.

It's been decades since I've dabbled in DAB (yup, that was bad), but my understanding is that DAB in Europe is mainly on the VHF bands. It was the choice of the "L" band that I would argue was DAB's death knell in Canada. The very real consequence of no receivers was to a large extent because of the manufacturing costs of "L" band front ends back then. GPS receivers run on the "L" band. Remember how much an entry level Garmin GPS was back In the 80s and 90s? $1,200.00?

From a propagation perspective, there is/was a double edged sword associated with using the "L" band. First, the nature of those frequencies is they're exceptionally dependent on line-of-site. VHF, on the other hand, has a tendency to bend and also penetrate most building materials.

That said, "L" band would have been conducive to multisite, cellular-type deployments. Add DAB's support for Single Frequency Networking (SFN) operation and a broadcaster could take a surgical approach to coverage. With Rogers having both cellular and broadcast interests (unique at that time), the potential to create a truly innovative listener experience was incredibly enticing.

Over at CHUM, Duff Roman was a great advocate of DAB and one of the very few I ever encountered to "get" DAB's potential. In the days Roman was championing DAB, CHUM lacked a strategic partner on the cellular side. If only...

When I think of DAB's lost opportunity in Canada, I'm reminded of what a well known entertainer often says on Twitter: "SAD..."

Last edited by Tim Brown 2016 (March 19, 2018 12:08 pm)

 

March 19, 2018 12:34 pm  #6


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

Doesnt the CN Tower have a complete DAB facility built in the late 90s or has this been closed and removed.  I know Bell is trying to implement HD for Chum and Virgin but their last attempt almost burnt down the CN Tower 

 

March 19, 2018 1:10 pm  #7


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

markow202 wrote:

Doesnt the CN Tower have a complete DAB facility built in the late 90s or has this been closed and removed.

Not sure if it's still there, but in order to deliver coverage equal to or better than current analog technologies, they'd have to have multiple sites (see my previous comments about "L" band propagation and SFNs). Alternatively, move below ~ 500 MHz (not going to happen of course). Were they to broadcast in the VHF/UHF bands, single sites (CN Tower, Mt. Seymour, Mount Royale etc.) become feasible at replicating analog coverage.

Last edited by Tim Brown 2016 (March 20, 2018 2:58 pm)

 

March 19, 2018 1:44 pm  #8


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

There was indeed a facility built out at the CN Tower. I saw it in its later days of operation (2003-ish). The transmitters were Italian-made and the engineers up there said there were ongoing problems with the solid-state power amplifier modules, and so the system was rarely running anywhere near full power. 

 

March 19, 2018 1:57 pm  #9


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

fybush wrote:

The transmitters were Italian-made and the engineers up there said there were ongoing problems with the solid-state power amplifier modules, and so the system was rarely running anywhere near full power. 

Can't say for sure, but I would imagine the manufacturer had limited experience with microwave circuits (Canada) verses RF circuits (Europe). Again, to my recollection, Canada was alone in choosing the "L" band.

 

March 19, 2018 1:57 pm  #10


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

fybush wrote:

There was indeed a facility built out at the CN Tower. I saw it in its later days of operation (2003-ish). The transmitters were Italian-made and the engineers up there said there were ongoing problems with the solid-state power amplifier modules, and so the system was rarely running anywhere near full power. 

Where are the antennas located?

 

March 19, 2018 6:19 pm  #11


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

I'm pretty sure everything's been removed by now. I know the transmitters were gone as of a few years ago. The antennas were somewhere up on the mast under the radome. And I think there were additional transmitter sites at other locations in the market.

The only time I ever heard the system on the air was very near the end of its life, when I got a demo of a receiver across the lake up on the escarpment in Grimsby. Reception was pretty good over there, but then you could look right at the CN Tower off in the distance across the water. 

 

March 20, 2018 8:49 am  #12


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

Scott Fybush's reception "across the lake" was not the norm.  I was at a VP of CHUM's home with the palm-sized tuner sold for a short time by Radio Shack.   Reception was spotty inside his home which was in the "Beaches" within line of sight of the CN Tower.   His comment to me...and I'm cleaning it up for this board... "if this is what we are depending on for our future then, we're really screwed".

There's a long back-story as to how the whole thing was sabotaged by the broadcasters who refused to invest in a robust roll-out of the terrestrial network.  General Motors was burned rather badly by the broadcasters, which is why they supported XM so aggressively.   A Canadian technology company offered a full build out of the network in the Toronto-Montreal corridor and Toronto-Barrie and I recall Calgary-Edmonton corridor, in exchange for some data capacity and the broadcasters turned them down.   The other problem and this is not to trivialize the situation, is that you cannot develop an "orphan" (L-Band) electronic technology for Canada in the North American market of over 360M consumers for a market that might turn out to be only a few million units...if the product was wildly successful.  Today, perhaps a run of a few hundred thousand units from a Chinese plant might be feasible, but in the early 2000's it was not viable.  The DAB promoters never had a single major Asian mass-market consumer products manufacturer "sign on".  

And who can forget the embarrassing CHUM presentation to the CRTC for a "pay radio" service using DAB, positioned as an end run against Sirius and XM in 2004/2005.   CHUM brought a "technical expert" from the UK - who confessed under questioning that there wasn't even a prototype of the "addressable" L-band subscription audio receiver that they were pitching for car and mobile use.  It was just smoke and mirrors and no one in management at the broadcast companies seriously questioned the promoters of DAB as to whether there was ever a viable business plan.  The fact is, there wasn't. As others have observed, the Europeans adopted significantly different technology in the VHF (just below N. American TV Channel 7) band, and with fairly common frequency structures across EU and nordic countries, companies such as Philips, and others could manufacture in sufficient quantities.  Propagation has not been too bad either.  Even today, you won't find DAB radios for sale in smaller or larger consumer stores in many EU countries.   I tried last summer and could not find any portable or table radios capable of DAB reception on sale.  FM still predominates throughout Italy, Spain, France and other EU countries.  I have never ridden in a taxi in Europe that had an operating DAB radio. Perhaps the UK is the exception...but I'm not certain of that.

 

March 20, 2018 3:29 pm  #13


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

Thanks for this TV Guy. 
Lots of information that only a few people knew about.
We knew it was a great experiment but it was doomed from the start.
We were given the first demo rides in the DAB demonstration van and when the signal could be picked up, it sounded pretty good.
But going with a band that could not be used in the US was the biggest mistake and not going with the same system that most of the rest of the world was using or going to use, especially Europe and Asia was another major blunder. 
To say that the whole project was mishandled is probably the understatement of the 1990s.

 

March 20, 2018 4:05 pm  #14


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

I was in England and Germany in November and saw real-world DAB in use. One of the B&Bs I stayed at in England had a portable DAB radio sitting in the window of the breakfast nook (I played with it for a bit; reception was decent and there were many more channels available over DAB than over analog FM/AM), and the rental car I had in Germany had DAB along with analog FM/AM. Listened for a while on the Autobahn from Stuttgart up to Frankfurt and never lost reception; there didn't seem to be that many more channels available on DAB there compared to analog.

Agreed, however, on all the points above about Canada's orphan system. It had almost zero chance of succeeding.

 

March 20, 2018 5:06 pm  #15


Re: What Would Have Happened If DAB Had Caught On In Canada?

In reference to Fybush's post.  Yes, DAB is progressing in some countries in Europe. The UK roll out is largely because there are private companies - who are building out the networks - Digital One and Sound Digital are the major players.  Rogers, Corus, CHUM and Standard should have should have delegated the build out - if the were ever serious. - But they weren't.

But even in the EU where there are some success stories, there are technical incompatibility problems.
A newer technology  called DAB+ has been adopted in parts of the UK - but there are problems.   .DAB+ is a major upgrade to DAB, widely used in other countries in Europe. It was first tested in the United Kingdom in 2013 before regular services were launched in 2016.  DAB+ is not backwards compatible with DAB so older radios cannot receive DAB+ stations.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!!!

There are no plans in the foreseeable future for the vast majority of BBC and commercial stations to transition from DAB to DAB+. Estimates given by multiplex operator Switch Digital suggests that a third of radio sets in 2016 were DAB+ compatible.

Last edited by tvguy (March 20, 2018 5:06 pm)