Wednesday, 1 July 2009 was the declared digital radio start-up day for the metropolitan licence areas: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Digital radio services are now offered in these licence areas by commercial radio broadcasters and national broadcasters. Australia is using an upgraded version of the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) digital radio standard, DAB+, to broadcast digital radio. DAB+ utilises VHF Band III spectrum, which is the same spectrum currently used to deliver both analog and digital television services.
‘Designated’ community radio broadcasters in these metropolitan licence areas (i.e. those who have the same licence area as a commercial radio service) are also eligible to begin digital radio broadcasting. Official launches of digital community radio services began in April 2011.
Under section 8AC of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, areas outside the five metropolitan licence areas are ‘regional licence areas’. The digital radio start-up day for regional licence areas has not yet been specified. The Minister for the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is responsible for specifying the digital radio start-up day for regional licence areas. It is not expected that digital radio will be available in regional licence areas before the Government concludes its review into digital radio transmission technologies for regional areas.
Review of digital radio technologies
Under section 215A of the Broadcasting Services Act, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy must cause to be conducted, by 1 January 2011, a review into the digital radio transmission technologies suitable for use in regional licence areas (Section 215A review).
On 17 November 2010 the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy released a discussion paper Technologies for transmission of digital radio services in regional licence areas. The paper considered technical and regulatory implications of rolling out digital radio in regional licence areas using various digital radio technologies. Submissions closed on 24 December 2010. The ACMA acted as a technical advisor to the Department in this review. The review is now complete and the report was tabled in parliament on 12 October 2011.
In response to applications from Commercial Radio Australia, the ACMA has authorised trials of DAB+ in two regional licence areas where sufficient spectrum was available, namely Canberra and Darwin. CRA is conducting the trials. The Canberra trial commenced on 19 July 2010 and was initially licensed for 12 months. In February 2011 the ACMA approved an increase in power from 1 kW to 3kW. The Darwin trial commenced on 13 August 2010 and was also initially licensed for 12 months. Both trials have been extended until 31 July 2013.
Legislation passed in 2007 required that a review be conducted to examine the appropriateness of various digital radio technologies for regional Australia. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy with technical assistance from the ACMA has commenced work on this review.
The Government will release a discussion paper seeking submissions from the radio industry and public as part of this review.
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy expects to release this paper shortly, with submissions to be received by 1 January 2011.
In the meantime, testing of different technologies in regional areas is underway, as commercial radio operators work with the ACMA on the development of regional trials.
Commercial Radio Australia and SBS commenced a one-year trial of DAB+ digital radio services in Canberra on 14 July 2010 and in Darwin on 13 August 2010.
Melbourne on-channel repeater
In December 2009, the ACMA issued a trial licence to Commercial Radio Australia to operate a digital radio on-channel repeater in Melbourne CBD.
The trial will demonstrate whether digital radio signal coverage can be improved in Melbourne through the operation of Single Frequency Networks and on-channel repeaters.
Some of the metropolitan digital radio markets are affected by constraints necessary to protect co-channel television services in adjacent regional areas. These constraints may limit the power that the digital radio transmitter can radiate in a particular direction. Melbourne digital radio coverage is affected by constraints due to co-channel digital television services in Western Victoria and the Upper Murray (Albury/North East Victoria region).
It is expected that after the switch-off of analog television services by the end of 2013 the spectrum may become available to lift these restrictions.
Auction of excess capacity on foundation multiplexes
Under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 each incumbent commercial and community radio broadcasting licensee is entitled to access a specified fraction of the capacity available under the foundation digital radio multiplex transmitter (DRMT) licence. These are called standard access entitlements. There may be ‘excess capacity’ on a DRMT when the multiplex capacity exceeds the aggregate of the standard access entitlements. The Radiocommunications Act 1992 provides a regime for the DRMT licensee to seek interest in the excess capacity, and where necessary auction the excess capacity.
On commencement of digital radio broadcasting in Australia there was excess multiplex capacity in each of the five metropolitan licence areas. The available excess capacity was:
- One-ninth of one DRMT in Adelaide (128 kbps);
- Six-ninths divided between two DRMTs in Brisbane (768 kbps);
- Three-ninths divided between two DRMTs in Melbourne (384 kbps);
- Three-ninths divided between two DRMTs in Sydney (384 kbps); and
- One-ninth of one DRMT in Perth (128 kbps).
On 27 November 2009, the excess capacity was auctioned by the DRMT licensees.
Each incumbent radio broadcasting licensee was eligible to purchase up to one-ninth each (128 kbps). All excess capacity in Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney was sold to incumbent commercial licensees. Most of the excess capacity in Brisbane (640 kbps) was also sold to incumbent commercial licensees, with the remaining one-ninth (128 kbps) being passed in.
DAB+ in-store repeaters
DAB+ in-store repeaters are transmitters that ensure DAB+ coverage that might not otherwise be available in heavily shielded rooms, such as shopping centres, where DAB+ receivers are likely to be sold.
The ACMA authorised the operation of DAB+ in-store repeaters from 1 July 2009. The in-store repeaters are licensed under a low interference potential devices (LIPD) class licence.
Accordingly, the ACMA varied the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence 2000 by the Radiocommunications (Low Interference Potential Devices) Class Licence Variation Notice 2009 (No. 1).