Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Doesn't Everybody Drive Ferraris?

IBCed out. A random IBC delegate at the RAI.  

I was just at IBC in Amsterdam, one of the world's biggest exhibitions for professional broadcasting gear. There was also a conference there on DMB/DAB+, the de facto standard for digital radio and mobile television. DAB+ was presented from stage with cases from the UK, Germany and Australia, only 3 of over 40 countries around the world where the standard is being used.

Such conferences always attract a mixed crowd. There will always all sorts of questions, including some technical ones that often do not take into account that there are also issues relevant to the industry as a whole and the market. A typical questions starts like this: 'DAB is really old, why do you not go for [add a technology here] which is much better?' This was also the case in Amsterdam. A person asked the panel why they didn't rather go for 'amazing' DVB-T2 Lite instead of the 'old and inefficient DAB technology.' The panel dismissed his question as a technical one not related to the panel's topic. It made sense to do so in the setting.

Why not DVB-T2 Lite?
I'd however like to ellaborate a little. There are several reasons not to go for DVB-T2 Lite such as building costs, runnings costs and coverage issues. These three issues can proably be debated, and there will be a claim that the costs will go down with time. They always do, also for DMB/DAB+. I will not go into detail here. However, let me look at the main two reasons not to go for DVB-T2 Lite.

It is a non-proven standard that has not been put to use anywhere. Why not? It may boast impressive specifications, but there is no ecosystem around it. Where are the transmitters, the chipsets, the receivers, the car radios, the broadcasters, the development companies, the competence, the willingsness, the additional and parallell services? And last, but not least, where is the focus on radio?

DVB-T2 is a standard made for television, not for radio. The DVB Project is of course a serious one, do not get me wrong. They have 250 broadcasters as members, primarily focused on television. When Chairman Phil Laven asked his members which aspects of the DVB-T2 standard were most important, radio came in as 76th. There are 75 priorities in line before radio! Does this sound like the way to go for digital radio?

DVB-T2 may be efficient and possible the best standard on paper, but it isn't widely available, it is not focusing on the needs for radio and there is no available ecosystem. There have been DAB services on air since 1995. And just a little reminder. It took 50 years to introduce FM radio. DAB has been much faster, despite being looked on as old. And old isn't necessarily bad. The wheel is rather old. It is still widely used. Even on Ferraris.

Very few people drive Ferraris as they are expensive, not widely available, impractical, need frequent services which are available from only a few shops, and can't run on most roads. They look bloody cool though, and the specs are incredibly impressive. On paper. It can probably do 0-100 km/h in 4 seconds and a top speed of 300 km/h. But you need a proper road, perfect conditions on it and no traffic. It almost sounds like the prerequisites for radio and television to work semi-decently via the internet.

The specs of DVB-T2 Lite may sound very cool, but to go for DVB-T2 Lite is expensive, the standard is not at all available, it is impractical for radio, not available in any shops and incapable of working in most networks (without replanning them). And of course, if you go for DVB-T2 Lite, you can bet that it won't take many years before the guy who asked the original question will ask another; 'DVB-T2 Lite is really old, why do you not go for [add a technology here] which is much better?' You cannot win against those who always look for nothing by the, on paper, best specifications. Just don't forget to consider the entire picture, because they wont.

DAB+ is the de facto standard for digital radio broadcasting for a reason. And with DMB (part of the same standard) you can add mobile television on the premises of radio. Not the other way around as is the case with the theoretical DVB-T2 Lite route.

And just to finish off, the fastest Ferrari ever built, the Ferrari F12berlinetta, comes with DAB+. I told you, Ferraris come with incredibly impressive specs.