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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

What about Digital Radio in Africa?


DMB and DAB+ broadcasts are already on air in South Africa.

I recently spoke at Johannesburg Radio Days in South Africa. Professor Franz Krüger (@franzkruger) of Wits Radio Academy in the same city wanted me to shed light on whether digital radio can work in that country too. I have later received the same question several times, so let me share some of my South African thoughts here. My conclusion will not surprise you if you have read this blog before.

In the panel I took part in you could also find Dave Cherry of Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association (SADIBA) and Kate Skinner of SOS Support Public Broadcasting. Cherry took a rather technical approach and showed how it can all be done when they hope to get a trial license for DAB+ next year. Luckily he will not have to wait until next year to see digital radio on air in Jozi. It is already live and kicking. A company called Mobile TV PTY has been trialling digital radio via DAB+ and mobile TV via DMB for over half a year from the Sentech tower, one of two landmarks in the biggest city in South Africa. I would strongly encourage Cherry and his colleagues of SADIBA to join forces with Mobile TV PTY (which is even among their own members) and follow their trials, which are expected to transform into commercial services within months from now – depending on the outcome of the application to the government (ICASA). SADIBA, and many of its members, want to learn about digital radio broadcasting and the possibilities and benefits it offers. There is no reason not to learn together and to refrain from following the company that is on air, that has partnered with a range of radio and television broadcasters already and that has a number of very exciting plans with regards to content, interactivity, transport of various forms of data (not only radio and tv) and revenue generating services. Mobile TV PTY has strong investors and a skilled team that can make this fly. The company is headed by Dr. Mothobi Mutloatse. Do note that Mobile TV PTY is a member also of IDAG, an organization promoting digital radio and mobile television (and which I am the president of).

Skinner was sceptical about digital radio in the very near future. She said that DAB digital radio needs to be tested properly first and claimed there is a lack of receivers. DAB and the upgraded version of it DAB+ has been live on air since 1995, currently so in over 40 countries across the globe. And there are already thousands of digital radio receiver models on the market. There is farther between every receiver that is also capable of receiving mobile TV via DMB, but more and more receivers are being introduces, even so also from the biggest mobile phone brand in the world, Samsung. She finally pointed on the additional costs of going digital. What she did forget was that to keep FM going also demands huge costs. In Norway, the costs of maitaining and upgrading the FM network (which is old and very much ready for a makeover) would have been higher than the costs of transferring to DAB (and that includes double distribution for years) but with none of the benefits.

Why will digital broadcasted radio also succeed in South Africa? I have covered many of the reasons before.

First of all, it is cheaper:

There are room for many more stations, increased competition and better programs:

Everyone, wherever they live, will get the same offering (an analogue transmitter will carry only one radio station whereas a digital transmitter will carry up to 20 radio stations):

Digital radio is much greener:

There is a “built-in” possibility to add a range of additional and parallel services, some of them also know as interactivity:

The internet is not designed to deliver live radio to large audiences in various contexts:

Radio is old, but so is the wheel – both are very much future proof:

FM is way past its due date

And FM is being switched off in the first countries whereas more countries are expected to follow:

Do also note that internet penetration in the country is at 17% (statistics quoted at Radio Days Johannesburg, even lower here). And that many people lack ordinary television receivers. To get a small TV capable of both mobile television (DMB) and digital radio (DAB+) will be the solution for many. (DMB and DAB+ have different characteristics but both are part of the same standard.)

Both radio futurologist James Cridland (@JamesCridland) and above mentioned Franz Krüger claim that the future of radio is multiplatform. I do agree. And digital broadcasting is certainly a part of this. Also in South Africa. And when South Africa moves, the rest of the continent usually pays attention and eventually follows.

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