Is DAB radio better than internet radio? Can the two technologies co-exist in the modern competitive world of media?

Today, we will go over the following:

● What is DAB Radio, and how does it work?

● How is DAB different from internet radio?

● Is DAB radio distinct from satellite radio?

● Among other topics

So, if you want to pique your curiosity, let’s get started:

Internet RadioDigital Radio
Data usageNo data usage
Available on mobile handsets, including smartphonesNot supported on smartphones.
Can work on any internet-enabled deviceRequires digital-enabled receiver
Available to everyoneTypically used by licensed stations
Not geographically restrictedLimited by the transmitter’s coverage

What is DAB Radio, and the meaning of DAB?

Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) started as a European research project. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation launched the first digital broadcasting channel on 1st June 1955, followed by the entry of DAB in the UK in the same year.

For context: FM and AM are analog broadcasting channels, and they work by encoding audio data into waves of different frequencies, phases, and amplitudes. The modulated radio signal carries the information to the receiver.

Digital broadcast relies on converting data into a series of ones and zeros (or positives or negatives), rather than relying on modulated radio signals for transmission.

Is DAB different from internet radio and satellite radio?

Yes, it's different in the following ways.

How DAB works

Credits: eHowTech

First, we need to understand: How does digital radio work? The broadcasting station will generate the audio that is encoded into a digital signal and sent to the transmitter tasked with distributing the digital signal over the airwaves, similar to FM audio transmission.

The receiver (a special digital radio that can decode digital signals) will receive and process the carrier signal, and the listener will hear the sound. Unlike FM, more information can be packed into a digital signal, for instance, the song’s metadata, including its title or the station’s name.

One digital transmitter can send out signals to as many receivers as possible, whether to ten persons or thousands of listeners from a given city.

Digital signals have a greater range and utilize a broader band of frequencies than analog radio. Its use of higher frequencies makes it less prone to the effects of interference compared to analog. The robust signal modulation also makes it suitable for mobile objects such as vehicles.

When listening to digital radio, you might not hear the same static experienced on FM or AM stations, mainly when the signal is weak, if you're too far away from the transmitter, or in case of too much interference, such as driving under a bridge.

One transmitter may send out multiple audio channels, which is referred to as DAB-multiplexing. This can allow a radio station to give its listeners more options, or several stations may use the same transmitter to reach out to listeners. For instance, BBC Radio has digital-only radio stations, including 6 Music and Radio 4 Extra. The use of digital multiplexes has also allowed it to broadcast its Asian Network of channels in the UK.

With many radios using fewer frequencies, listeners can access more radio stations, overcoming FM or AM limits, where each transmitter broadcasts an individual frequency.

How internet radio stations work

Internet radios operate a little differently than DAB radio. There is no transmitter; instead, the radio station will continuously upload its audio stream to the broadcasting server, which distributes the stream to connected listeners.

Radio servers may have a limit on the number of listeners they can support, depending on the available bandwidth, as each user utilizes network resources when they connect. But internet radio stations don't require specially configured devices or receivers. As long as a device can connect to the internet using a browser, it can pull an online radio stream.

How satellite radios work

As the name denotes, satellite radio relies on satellites in space to broadcast radio signals to the end user’s receiver, which may be their car radio.

It promises crystal clear CD-quality sound even if the receiver is thousands of miles away from the closest FM transmitter, meaning that listeners in Washington state can perfectly listen to radio stations in New York.

In the United States, Sirius XM Satellite radio provides paid satellite radio services; satellite users require a monthly subscription and a satellite-enabled radio so they can enjoy their favorite radio stations.

Satellite radio also relies on the use of digital signals, and so it also falls into the realm of digital audio broadcasting. Listeners still get the song’s metadata.

Ground transmitters are also used in urban areas where buildings may block the satellite signal since they cannot penetrate thru’ various construction materials. Most satellite receivers tend to be located on the outside for a clear line with the skies.

What are the advantages of digital radio over internet radio?

Data usage: It doesn’t require internet usage and no streaming costs.

Digital radios broadcast from transmitters to the user’s receiver, like FM or AM, without cost. On the other hand, Internet radio stations require internet connections, and during streaming, bandwidth is exhausted. If you’re on a fixed usage plan, this may be a problem.

Simple to tune-in and more familiar

Finding channels to listen to on a digital radio entails flipping through the available options, like with FM stations. For internet radio, you need to find their stream from their website, app, or radio directory - and most people are not familiar with this process.

Easy to scale to thousands of listeners

Internet radio stations have a problem of scalability because the more listeners a station attracts, the more capable its servers need to be. Better servers and bandwidth come at an increased cost.

Digital radios can have thousands of listeners without changing their transmitter capabilities to cover a particular area; only when they need to expand to a larger geographic area will they need to set up transmitters in more locations.

What are the similarities between internet radio and digital radio?

More station choice: Internet radio gives listeners more variety. DAB+ has also increased the number of stations available to listeners.

On-screen information: Listeners can get song information when they tune-in to their favorite radio stations.

Targeting niches: Both digital and internet radio stations allow niche formatting due to the ease of getting more stations on the air.

Better sound quality: DAB and internet radio both offer higher audio quality compared to analog radio.

How is internet radio better than digital radio?

Greater availability: The reach of the transmitters may restrict digital radio availability. Internet radio stations are accessible all over the globe provided there is an internet connection. It’s the same comparable advantage offered by satellite radio, and now newer cars are equipped with internet infotainment systems.

No interference: Internet radio doesn’t suffer from signal interference, owing to the proliferation of internet networks; for instance, you can be in an underground parking lot and still be connected to the internet.

Accessibility: Creating an internet radio doesn’t require FCC licenses, expensive radio towers, or dealings with commercial multiplexes that distribute digital signals. In mere minutes, you can get an internet radio stream up and running on CloudRadio.

Smartphones don’t support DAB signals: Despite the advancement of smart devices, most still come with an FM chip. LG was the first company to introduce a commercial smartphone with support for digital radio, the LG Stylus DAB, in April 2016. It was meant to solve the problem of data usage by internet radios. However, the concept did not take off, and in fact, iPhone devices don’t even have FM chips, leaving iOS users with web radios as their only option.

Internet radios are available in all countries: While most countries have rolled out digital TV, many are yet to implement digital audio broadcasting. In the USA, for instance, digital radio stations did not receive separate frequencies; instead, FM and AM stations can broadcast an HD digital signal on the same frequency. About 40 countries currently have DAB+.

Bottom Line

Internet radio and digital radio certainly provide advantages over analog radio, but they also have distinct differences and strengths. They may have different futures; more countries look to adopt DAB+; data costs keep going lower. It’s certainly an interesting subject to track.

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