A report released by Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) and written by Professor Reg Coutts, finds that mobile broadband communications networks, particularly in regional areas, are not a replacement for broadcast free to air radio.
The report considers the potential for mobile networks to be expanded to a point where they are viable to accommodate all live free to air radio broadcasting at the same high quality to hundreds of thousands of listeners at the same time as a replacement for broadcast radio, and/or instead of rolling out DAB+ digital radio, which is currently available in the five major metropolitan cities.
The Coutts Report highlights that mobile networks in regional Australia are less cost effective compared to a potential DAB+ digital radio rollout in regional areas. Even with upgraded 4G networks using the most advanced LTE broadcast mode, there are technical and economic reasons for radio to be delivered using free to air broadcast technology in both regional and metropolitan areas.
Following the submission to the Federal Government’s Digital Radio Discussion Paper earlier in the year, to assist with future planning, and to introduce into the general discourse the reality of technical capability of both broadcast radio and mobile networks for mass live and local free to air radio delivery, the commercial radio industry commissioned highly respected telecommunications expert, Professor Reg Coutts of Coutts Communications, to analyse the use of mobile telecommunications to deliver free to air broadcast radio in Australia.
CRA chief executive officer, Joan Warner said: “There are a lot of misperceptions around the future of broadcast radio, mobile networks and the delivery of radio online and this report shows it may not yet, or even in the longer term, be technically or financially viable.
“Listening to radio online is complementary and not a replacement of broadcast radio, whether it’s analogue or digital. Listeners use streaming as a convenient alternative. The commercial radio industry is continually assessing technological innovation and economic viability. We recognise our listeners want to listen to radio wherever they are – in the car, at home, on their phone while in transit and as an industry we are constantly exploring the best way to achieve this.”
“Internet radio on smart phones by itself cannot substitute for broadcast radio. Broadcast digital radio is globally where innovation is happening. The Government is currently depriving regional listeners of digital radio unlike their city cousins who have both digital radio and internet radio. Innovative local radio broadcasters need broadcast digital radio which so necessary for regional communities to thrive in the future,” Professor Coutts said.
There are 220 commercial regional radio stations throughout Australia and, aside from questions over urban delivery, the report also suggests there is considerable uncertainty as to a plausible business model to support the upgrade of regional mobile networks from 3G to the most advanced form of 4G LTE Broadcast and it would also mean listeners would have to pay via their data plan for what they now can receive at no cost.
Importantly there would be significant impact on mobile cell capacity for other user’s applications (ie social media, internet browsing, video on demand etc) even if LTE Broadcast is able to be used to replicate broadcast radio’s live reach, robustness and quality.
The radio industry has rolled out digital radio in the five state metropolitan capitals and like the television industry, who have completely switched to digital, is looking to secure its digital broadcast future by continuing a phased rollout of broadcast digital radio to regional Australia.
The findings of this Australian study are consistent with recent European reports which show mobile networks complement broadcast radio, but are unlikely to replace it in the foreseeable future.
The full Coutts Report is available here.