Digital radio FAQs | ACMA

Digital radio FAQs

Digital radio FAQs

Use the links below to find answers to questions about digital radio.

Where are digital radio services available?

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 maps show the metropolitan radio licence areas that currently have access to digital radio services.

Regional licence areas

The ACMA is now planning the rollout of digital radio in regional areas where industry indicates it is economically feasible to do so, starting with the permanent licensing of the Canberra and Darwin trial services.

Hobart was also identified by industry as being a first-mover regional licence areas for the regional digital radio rollout.

In December 2016, a discussion paper and draft versions of the digital radio channel plans (DRCPs) were published on the ACMA website, inviting submissions by 13 February 2017.

A total of 13 submissions were received in response to the consultation package. Submissions were received from a range of stakeholders in the radio broadcasting sector, as well as a member of the public. These submissions reflected the differing interests of stakeholders, which the ACMA must balance in the planning process for the expansion of digital radio into regional Australia.  Overall, the submissions were supportive of the ACMA’s proposal to make the DRCP for Northern Territory and the variations to the DRCPs for ACT/NSW and Tasmania.

On 20 November 2017, the ACMA published an invitation for foundation category 1 digital radio multiplex transmitter licences for Canberra and Darwin. Digital radio has already been operating on a trial basis in Canberra and Darwin. The trials have been extended on a year-by-year basis. The issuing of 15-year licences provides long-term certainty for service providers and listeners in Darwin and Canberra.

The variation to the Queensland digital radio channel plan instrument has been deferred until the ACMA can further consider submissions about the proposed Gold Coast DRCP and the variation to the Brisbane DRCP.

The ACMA will continue to work with industry to prepare plans for licence areas where licensees indicate a commitment to offer digital radio services.

What is digital radio broadcasting?

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 18 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.

What are the benefits of digital radio?

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
  • 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.

What digital radio standard is used?

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 used in some other countries. 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 WorldDAB website.

In the longer term, DAB+ on VHF Band III may not be the only technology used in Australia to deliver digital radio services. In July 2015, the Department of Communications released a report (the Digital Radio Report) of two statutory reviews of digital radio issues in accordance with section 215B of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) and section 313B of the Radiocommunications Act 1992. The Digital Radio Report found that DAB+ would have the potential to reach most of the population using a similar number of transmitters to the current FM services, but would struggle to match the coverage of high and medium powered AM transmitters that reach the remaining population. The only digital radio technologies capable of completely covering the remaining geographic areas currently covered by AM radio services include Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) and/or satellite digital radio technologies.

The Digital Radio Report also found that:

  • DRM is unlikely to be a viable option in the short to medium term in Australia as there are only a few receivers currently available in the market. In addition, the prospect of dual DAB and DRM receivers being introduced into the Australian market is low.
  • There is no evidence that satellite delivery and reception of digital radio services will provide a realistic alternative to terrestrial radio platforms in Australia, beyond its current use in remote or reception black spot households.

What frequency bands are used for digital radio?

DAB+ operates in the VHF Band III (174−230 MHz), which is also widely used for both analog and digital television broadcasts.

Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) is another digital radio standard. 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.

Can I still listen to the analog AM and FM stations I’m used to?

AM and FM analog radio services remain available despite the introduction of DAB+ digital radio. . Analog radio services have not been 'switched off' to facilitate digital radio broadcasting.

You do not need to buy a new radio to continue to listen to your current favourite analog stations. To listen to new digital-only DAB+ radio services, you 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?

The 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 talk about digital radio, this refers to radio services that are broadcast terrestrially, free to air, using a digital radio technology (such as DAB+ or DRM) not those services that are broadcast using digital television transmission technologies or delivered via cable or satellite by pay TV providers.

What radio stations are broadcasting via DAB+?

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, most broadcasters are currently providing a 'simulcast' of its analog radio service. Most commercial broadcasters are also broadcasting new digital-only radio services. Visit the website of each broadcaster for further information on the particular DAB+ radio services they offer.  A complete list of all digital services in the licence area can be found on the Digital Radio Plus website.

Are additional stations, not available on FM and AM, available via DAB+?

National and commercial radio broadcasters have developed new digital-only radio services which include 'niche' stations, for example stations focused 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.

Will I be able to listen to my community radio station digitally?

Designated community radio broadcasters (that is, those community radio broadcasters whose licence area is the same as a commercial radio broadcaster) have a right to provide digital radio services.

The BSA provides for deemed community radio broadcasting licence areas to be, for the purposes of digital radio, to be the same as a specified commercial radio broadcasting licence area. In deeming these areas to be taken to be the same, the community radio broadcasting licensee becomes eligible to provide digital radio broadcasting services.

The legislative framework for digital radio does not provide for local-coverage community radio services (for example suburban community stations within a capital city) to broadcast digitally at this time.

What type of radio do I need to listen to digital stations?

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 that 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.

Information about DAB+ receivers can be found on the Digital Radio Plus website

Be careful if you’re 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, 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.

Where am I able to buy a digital radio?

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, look for a DAB+ logo.

Will DAB+ be used in regional licence areas?

Yes, an upgraded version of the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) digital radio standard, DAB+, will be used to broadcast digital radio throughout Australia.

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.

Industry links

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.

Last updated: 20 November 2017