Digital radio accessibility
A report from the ACMA on digital radio accessibility provides an overview of current developments in digital radio technology and applications that could offer new features to assist people with sensory impairments to access radio broadcast services.
The report covers captioned radio; accessible design developments; digital radio for the blind or visually impaired; and emergency warnings for people with sensory impairments delivered using digital radio. The report is available in Word (381 kb) or PDF (604 kb) formats.
In October 2005, the Minister announced a framework for the introduction of digital radio in Australia.
Digital radio broadcasting is a new way of using the same digital technology common in products and services such as computers, compact discs and telecommunications.
Digital radio is now available in Australia. The ACMA has planned and licensed digital radio services for Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Australia is using an upgraded version of the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) standard, called 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. To listen to digital radio in Australia you need a DAB+ receiver.
Digital radio services are now offered in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney by commercial radio broadcasters and national broadcasters. ‘Designated’ community radio broadcasters (i.e. those who have the same licence area as a commercial radio service) in these metropolitan licence areas are also eligible to begin digital radio broadcasting and official launches of digital community radio services began in April 2011.
The roll-out of digital radio services to areas beyond these five metropolitan licence areas is dependent on certain policy and technological decisions that are still to be made by the Government.
- Where are digital radio services available?
- What is digital radio broadcasting?
- What are the benefits of digital radio?
- What digital radio standard is used?
- What frequency bands are used for digital radio?
- Industry links
- Frequently asked questions
Metropolitan licence areas
Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney now receive digital radio services. Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 these areas are defined, for the purposes of digital radio start-up, as ‘metropolitan licence areas’ and all other areas are defined as ‘regional licence areas’.
The following are maps of the metropolitan radio licence areas.
Google maps are also available of the licence areas.
Licence area maps should not be interpreted as providing details of digital radio coverage, which may vary within each licence area. For information on digital radio coverage in particular locations visit digitalradioplus.com.au or abc.net.au.
Regional licence areas
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 provides for the start-up of digital radio services in regional licence areas, but does not specify a date. The Minister for the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has the power to determine the start-up date for regional licence areas, but has not yet determined that date. Digital radio services will not commence in regional licence areas before the date specified by the Minister.
Digital radio will not be available in regional licence areas before the Government concludes its review into digital radio transmission technologies suitable for regional areas. Due to limited availability of VHF Band III spectrum it is also possible that digital radio will not be available in regional licence areas before the end of 2013, when all analog television services are switched off.
Digital radio broadcasting is a method of assembling, broadcasting and receiving communications services using digital technology.
A fundamental difference between analog and digital broadcasting is that digital technology involves the delivery of digital bit streams that can be used for sound broadcasting as well as a range of other multimedia services. The flexibility to offer additional services, which in the case of digital radio may include text and pictures, has the opportunity to enhance the audience experience.
Digital radio broadcasting is significantly more spectrum efficient than analog FM radio. A single DAB+ multiplex channel occupies 1.536 MHz of radio spectrum and can provide at least eighteen good quality music radio services. In comparison, analog FM radio requires 1.6 MHz to provide eight services.
Digital radio is also less sensitive to adjacent channel interference and can employ Single Frequency Networks (SFN), which contributes to more efficient use of the radio spectrum.
Digital radio is able to offer generally higher quality sound than current AM and FM radio broadcasts to fixed, portable and mobile receivers. The sound quality can relate to the bandwidth and the data rates used.
Listeners benefit from an increased variety of radio programs because each broadcaster is permitted to transmit multiple program streams. This means that broadcasters may provide numerous new digital radio stations instead of a single analog radio station.
The technology also enables a number of additional audio, image and text services, including:
- program information such as the station name, song title and artist's name;
- traffic information, news and weather;
- additional services such as paging and global satellite positioning; and
- the ability to pause and rewind services.
You may be able to receive many, or all, of these additional services depending on the DAB+ receiver you purchase.
Australia is using an upgraded version of the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) digital radio standard, called DAB+, to deliver digital radio services.
The new DAB+ standard has adopted the audio codec HE-AAC version 2 (known as AAC+). AAC+ is approximately three-times more efficient than the audio codec used in the older version of the DAB standard. Therefore, broadcasters using DAB+ will be able to provide far higher audio quality or far more stations than they could on DAB. It is most likely that broadcasters will provide a combination of both higher audio quality and more stations.
DAB technology is described comprehensively at the WorldDMB website.
In the longer term, DAB+ on VHF Band III may not be the only technology used in Australia to deliver digital radio services. A Government review will be conducted into digital radio transmission technologies for regional areas and the Minister must cause this review to be conducted by 1 January 2011.
DAB+ operates in the VHF Band III (174 – 230 MHz) which is also widely used for both analog and digital television broadcasts.
It is also possible for DAB+ to operate in the ‘L band’ (1452 – 1492 MHz), although the L-Band is not currently used for digital radio in Australia.
Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) is another digital radio standard that is gaining international support and may be seen as complementary to DAB+. DRM was initially developed to operate in broadcasting bands below 30 MHz, including the current medium frequency (531-1602 kHz) AM broadcast band. The latest version, often referred to as DRM+, operates in the bands below 30 MHz as well as in VHF frequencies up to 108 MHz. Australia currently uses these VHF frequencies for analog FM radio broadcasts.
For further information on digital radio, see the links below to a range of Australian and international websites that include government, broadcasters, industry bodies and not-for-profit digital radio networks.
- The ACMA’s digital radio industry page
- The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation
- Digital Radio Plus
- Digital Radio Mondiale
- Can I still listen to the analog AM and FM stations I’m used to?
- I already have radio stations on my digital TV – can’t I use my TV to access DAB+ digital radio?
- What radio stations are broadcasting via DAB+?
- Are additional stations, not available on FM and AM, available via DAB+?
- Will I be able to listen to my community radio station digitally?
- What type of radio do I need to listen to digital stations?
- Where and when will I be able to buy a digital radio?
- Will DAB+ be used in regional licence areas?
AM and FM analog radio services remain available despite the introduction of DAB+ digital radio in the five metropolitan areas. Analog radio services have not been ‘switched off’ to facilitate digital radio broadcasting.
Consumers do not need to buy a new radio to continue to listen to their current favourite analog stations. To listen to new digital-only DAB+ radio services consumers will need a DAB+ receiver.
I already get some radio stations on my digital TV – can’t I use my TV to access DAB+ digital radio?
Some television broadcasters who are also radio broadcasters, such as ABC and SBS, are providing ‘radio stations’ as multi-channels of their digital television services. Also, some cable and satellite pay TV operators may provide ‘radio stations’ as part of their services. Because the transmission technology used for digital television is different to the technology used for digital radio in Australia (DAB+), your digital television will not receive the digital radio services broadcast using DAB+.
When the ACMA or the Government talks about digital radio, they are referring to radio services that are broadcast terrestrially, free to air, using a digital radio technology (such as DAB+ or DRM) not those services which are broadcast using digital television transmission technologies or delivered via cable or satellite by pay TV providers.
The national (ABC and SBS) and commercial radio broadcasters in the five metropolitan licence areas (Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney) officially began digital broadcasting on 1 July 2009.
On the DAB+ platform each broadcaster is currently providing a ‘simulcast’ of its analog radio service. Most broadcasters are also broadcasting new digital-only radio services. Consumers should visit the website of each broadcaster for further information on the particular DAB+ radio services offered by each broadcaster.
National and commercial radio broadcasters have developed new digital-only radio services which include ‘niche’ stations, for example stations focussed on sport, jazz, classical or Australian music.
Consumers should visit the website of each broadcaster for further information on the particular DAB+ radio services offered by each broadcaster.
Designated community radio broadcasters in the five metropolitan licence areas (i.e. those community radio broadcasters whose licence area is the same as a commercial radio broadcaster) have a right to provide digital radio services.
Official launches of digital community radio services began in April 2011.
The legislative framework for digital radio does not provide for local-coverage community radio services to broadcast digitally at this time. A Government review of digital radio transmission technologies is being conducted, and the technologies considered in this review could be more suitable for local-coverage community broadcasting.
To receive current digital radio services broadcasting in Australia, you will need to purchase a DAB+ digital receiver. DAB+ radio receivers were unavailable for purchase in Australia before May 2009; therefore if you have a digital radio purchased before this date it may not be able to receive current DAB+ broadcasts (for example it may be a DAB digital radio which cannot receive DAB+ broadcasts).
Some analog radios may have what is often termed ‘digital tuning’ or ‘digital PLL tuning’; these are not digital radios. When purchasing a digital radio, consumers should look for a DAB+ logo.
Consumers should be careful if considering buying and importing a digital radio from overseas or from international websites as different countries have adopted different digital radio standards. For example, the USA uses a standard known as ‘HD Radio’ and the UK uses the older DAB standard. Digital radios that are readily available in other countries may not receive Australian DAB+ broadcasts.
Most DAB+ radio receivers do not receive the AM band. If you are listening to radio services in an area that currently receives digital radio services (Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney), you should be able to hear AM services simulcast in DAB+ on your digital radio. If you wish to listen to AM services outside of these metropolitan licence areas you will still need an analog AM radio to do so.
Digital radios can be purchased from a number of major retail outlets in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, as well as through online retailers. When purchasing a digital radio, consumers should look for a DAB+ logo.
It is unclear whether DAB+ is the most suitable digital radio standard to meet the needs of regional audiences. Radio services in regional licence areas differ from those in metropolitan licence areas, in terms of market size, coverage and variety. DBCDE is conducting a review into digital radio transmission technologies suitable for regional licence areas. The review is considering issues including:
- Availability and price of transmission equipment and reception equipment for relevant technologies.
- The geographic coverage that would result from the use of relevant technologies.
Spectrum availability also impacts the roll-out of digital radio services to regional licence areas. DAB+ requires spectrum in the frequency band 174-230 MHz (VHF Band III). This spectrum is currently used in regional licence areas for analog and digital television. Therefore in the majority of regional licence areas, there will be no spectrum available for DAB+ until the end of 2013 when analog television services cease broadcasting.