Monday, February 27, 2006

CRA says Australia Digital Radio just "two to three years away"

February 27

Australia Digital radio roll out commences

Commercial Radio Australia reports comprehensive coverage surveys on the first 11 commercial digital radio licence areas are now complete. These are for the key cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, as well as the key population centres of Canberra, Hobart, Darwin, Newcastle, Geelong and Wollongong. The Gold Coast licence area and will be completed by April.

The coverage reports, undertaken by consultants Gibson Quai-AAS, identify the planning and transmitter requirements for achieving at least 95 per cent population coverage for digital radio in these areas leading to detailed project costing.

Joan Warner, Commercial Radio Australia CEO said that since the Federal Government's October 2005 framework announcement for digital radio, the industry has begun the planning for the massive and expensive business of a roll out.

Ms Warner further said that the focus over the next 12 to 18 months will be on four key areas – technical and resource planning for the digital network; investigating a more spectrum efficient audio coding for Australia; cooperating with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on spectrum planning; and working with the Federal Government on the development of legislation.

The industry is keen to “future proof” the technology platform and at the request of Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan has taken a lead role in investigating Advanced Audio Coding (AAC/AAC+), a new compression technology for use with Eureka 147 that will allow more efficient use of public spectrum. If adopted, the new standards would enable the industry to broadcast more and better quality services, such as multilayering and images, using less bandwidth. However, digital radio receivers currently in the market will not be compatible with the new standards.

In January, Commercial Radio Australia, Austereo and the ABC joined an international working party investigating the development of AAC+.

Ms Warner emphasizes the need in getting the technology platform right to deliver value added services to listeners. Citing Australia as a relatively small market, she is looking for international support for the new coding to ensure there is a large enough market to support the development of a wide range of attractively priced receivers.

Ms Warner says she remains extremely optimistic about the potential of digital radio and on track with the rollout of metropolitan digital radio networks in "two to three years".

She notes the growing popularity of mp3 players, radio podcasts and digital music downloads to personal computers and mobile phones that shows that listeners are ready to embrace change in the way they experience entertainment.

"We’re at the start of this new era, and digital radio will position radio as a key player in the future media environment,“ Ms Warner stated.

The Australian radio industry continues to work with the ABC, SBS and ACMA as development progresses and will continue its trial broadcasts in Sydney, the CMA re-affirms.

Commercial Radio Australia is the radio industry's main trade body.

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