Digital radio services have been introduced into Australia in accordance with the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act).
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 by digital television services.
Unlike analog broadcasting, where each broadcaster has its own transmitter, in DAB+ digital, individual broadcasters aggregate or multiplex their content onto one or more multiplex transmitters, using digital compression technology.
Digital radio services from commercial radio broadcasters and national broadcasters have been operating in the metropolitan licence areas (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth) since 1 July 2009. ‘Designated’ community radio services also began in these areas in April 2011.
The ACMA also authorised trials of DAB+ in Canberra and Darwin, which are being conducted by Commercial Radio Australia. The Canberra trial commenced on 19 July 2010 and the Darwin trial commenced on 13 August 2010. Both trials have been extended until 30 June 2018. The ACMA is now working with industry to facilitate the permanent licensing of these trial services. The national broadcasting services, ABC and SBS, have been allocated a foundation category 3 digital radio multiplex transmitter licence for Canberra and Darwin. These services commenced permanent transmissions in December 2017.
The ABC and SBS have also been allocated a foundation category 3 digital radio multiplex transmitter licence for Hobart and permanent transmissions commenced in March 2018.
The ACMA is now inviting applications for a foundation category 1 digital radio multiplex transmitter licence each in Canberra and Darwin. The category 1 licence is for transmitting commercial and community radio services.
Regional access to digital radio
In 2015, after the publication of the Digital Radio Report (see below), the government asked the ACMA to facilitate the rollout of digital radio in regional areas where licensees make the commercial decision to offer the service.
As recommended in the report, a Digital Radio Planning Committee for regional Australia chaired by the ACMA was established in the third quarter of 2015 to work with industry to plan digital radio in regional Australia. The committee was tasked with 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.
The committee comprises industry representatives from peak bodies Commercial Radio Australia and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Special Broadcasting Service, the Department of Communications, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the ACMA.
Planning principles and ACMA roadmap for digital radio expansion
In September 2016, the Digital Radio Planning Committee discussed a set of principles for the planning of the rollout of digital radio to regional areas. Based on these discussions, the ACMA has adopted a set of planning principles to be applied in developments to establish regional digital radio services.
The ACMA has developed a Digital radio regulatory roadmap to plan for the expansion of digital radio services into regional Australia.
Industry planning priorities
The ACMA will work with the radio industry to prepare indicative regional allotment plans that seek to provide indicative spectrum allotments for possible future services across broad regions, with the first to be completed in the first half of 2018.
Following publication of these allotment plans, the ACMA will prepare digital radio channel plans (DRCPs) for markets where the radio industry has indicated a commitment to offer digital radio services. The commercial radio industry has indicated there are a number of regional licensees that have expressed interest in offering digital radio services in the next few years.
Details of the timing of commencement of digital radio in these markets will be determined by the broadcasters.
Find out more about industry planning priorities.
Allotment planning and related engineering reports
Engineering studies conducted by the ACMA and industry engineers underpin the planning principles, indicative channel allotment planning and digital radio channel planning. Where appropriate to do so, the results of these studies will be published on the ACMA’s website.
Industry and engineering reports can be found here.
Digital radio channel planning
DRCPs are legislative instruments made by the ACMA under section 44A of the Act.
DRCPs allot frequency blocks for use by digital radio multiplex transmitter (DRMT) licensees in each licence area. The DRCPs also determine the number and type of DRMT licences to be issued, and the technical specifications of multiplex transmitters operating under DRMT licences.
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Digital radio licensing
The licensing framework for digital radio in Australia operates under a digital radio multiplex transmitter licence category system.
Read more about digital radio licensing.
The Digital Radio Report
The Department of Communications simultaneously conducted two statutory reviews into digital radio services in Australia, in accordance with section 215B of the BSA and section 313B of the Act. The Department of Communications' Digital Radio Report was released in July 2015. The report made a number of recommendations to government, including:
- not setting a timetable for analogue radio switch off at this time
- giving the ACMA responsibility for determining where and when digital terrestrial radio services can commence
- encouraging industry to work with the ACMA to establish a Digital Radio Planning Committee for Regional Australia chaired by the ACMA and comprising key industry bodies and stakeholders
- not reintroducing the moratorium on the ACMA issuing digital-only commercial radio licences in mainland state capital cities
- removing the provisions requiring a six-year moratorium on additional commercial digital radio services in a regional licence area following the commencement of commercial services in that area
- considering whether to allow broadcasters to choose the mode(s) in which they deliver their radio services
- considering minor amendments to the current digital radio regulatory regime to provide a simpler, more flexible process for planning and licensing of digital radio in regional Australia, with a view to permanent services being licensed in Canberra and Darwin as a priority
- considering whether the statutory restrictions on who can provide digital radio services should be relaxed in the event that incumbent radio broadcasters in regional licence areas have not established digital radio services, or taken positive steps towards their establishment, by 30 June 2018
- considering the arrangements required to enable narrowcasters to provide digital radio services in areas where services have already been established or to join incumbent broadcasters in rolling out services, subject to the availability of spectrum and multiplex capacity
- repealing the restricted datacasting licence category.
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. For advice about the timeframe for digital radio rollout, please consult the Digital Radio Plus website, which has the latest news on digital radio developments in Australia for industry.
Access historical digital radio information, including planning information for metropolitan digital radio.
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