Tunnel vision about digital radio could cost lives | radioinfo

Tunnel vision about digital radio could cost lives

Monday 21 September, 2020

Comment from Peter Saxon.


It’s been about seven years since Jason Morrison presented his hard-talking Breakfast show on 2UE.
Now the director of 7News, Sydney, Jason emailed radioinfo the other day to say, I am just a listener these days - and a frustrated one at that!!”
The cause of his frustration is that after more than 10 years of operation in metro markets, DAB+ reception remains patchy and unreliable - acutely so in Sydney’s extensive tunnel system.
"I got plenty of people in radio stations contacting me, similarly frustrated at the industry and government’s lack of action on the issue. I’ve written about a dozen letters to the tollway company and the NSW Government about no tunnel reception … it’s actually a safety risk,” says Jason
CRA CEO, Joan Warner agrees, "The industry has written to State Governments, who bear responsibility for roads and safety, pointing out the necessity of tunnels being upgraded to cater for DAB+ as well as existing rebroadcasts of AM and FM to allow override of broadcasts in times of emergency, disaster or accident.”

Jason, who was part of a group of announcers recruited to promote the launch of DAB+, adds, "Digital Radio is great but it’s almost impossible to take seriously in Sydney with no coverage in all but one of the 9 tollway tunnel. [Westconnex M4 which opened in July 2019]. That’s about half a million people a day having to retune.”
Melbourne and Brisbane are also affected. According to several sources who spoke to radioinfo.com.au on condition of anonymity, the sticking point at present is with some of the tollway companies who built the older tunnels.  The original construction contracts they signed would have included them having to provide AM and FM reception but not DAB+ which was still in a formative stage.

For all new tunnels in NSW, including the 9km long NorthConnex, which is due to open shortly, DAB+ reception is mandatory.
Ms Warner says, "The radio industry is keen to have DAB+ retrofitted into existing tunnels, given that 75% of new cars on the road are equipped with DAB+ and there are over 3.2 million cars now on the road with this technology.
No one has been a greater champion for DAB+ than Joan Warner. And much of the impressive penetration of receivers into motor vehicles can be attributed to her advocacy. But all that hard work could be put at risk if the digital signal continually drops out in tunnels and random dead spots.

Governments, Tollway operators and Radio need to get together in one room or a Zoom meeting and nut out a solution that works for all parties - not forgetting the most important party, that being the public who use the tunnels and listen to digital radio

"Every day more and more cars hit the roads with DAB+ receivers and it’s getting harder to buy a portable radio with AM on board. It’s mostly DAB+ and FM... after 10 plus years of DAB+, it should be better than this. Much better," says Jason Morrison.

Peter Saxon
Joan Warner's full Statement:

"DAB+ is available in the Westconnex M4 which opened to traffic in July 2019, and is mandatory in all new tunnels in NSW, including the 9km long NorthConnex, which is due to open shortly.

"The radio industry is keen to have DAB+ retrofitted into existing tunnels, given that 75% of new cars on the road are equipped with DAB+ and there are over 3.2 million cars now on the road with this technology.

"The industry has written to State Governments, who bear responsibility for roads and safety, pointing out the necessity of tunnels being upgraded to cater for DAB+ as well as existing rebroadcasts of AM and FM to allow override of broadcasts in times of emergency, disaster or accident. The industry has been in discussion with tunnel operators for some years about a partnership approach to this issue. Last year the industry proposed a joint approach to the issue with Transurban as the largest operator of affected tunnels. While some progress had been made with Transurban, at present the project has slowed due to the impact of COVID.

"CRA will be writing again to State Governments to request that, in light of the large number of cars on the road now with DAB+ and in the interests of driver safety, State Governments consider making retrofitting of DAB+ into tunnels a requirement for tunnel operators."


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Anthony The Koala
21 September 2020 - 4:42pm
I clearly recall in the late 1980s when the Sydney Harbour Tunnel was constructed that repeaters/transmitters for AM Stereo were installed to cater for those using the tunnel. AM Stereo was officially on air for three years.

DAB+ has officially been on air since 2009. More vehicles are installed with AM/FM/DAB+ infotainment systems. More than one million vehicles have an AM/FM/DAB+ receiver, source https://www.digitalradioplus.com.au/vehicles-with-dab .It wouldn't be too hard to put a repeater/transmitter? It has been achieved in Europe with emergency services utilizing DAB, page 19, https://www.digitalradioplus.com.au/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=1fdb68fe-ffbb-4429-bf34-438ff036582a

Seamless operation between receiving the DAB+ signal outside and inside the tunnel is possible without having to reconfigure the car's radio receiver, https://www.vdl.fr/media/file/ds_trs2_en_v2.pdf .

The signals from the multiplex are received, filtered and retransmitted throughout the tunnel. The tunnel management can override the incoming signal with emergency messages.

Why stop at Harbour tunnels? Why not include the Metro-West tunnels where passengers can listen to their particular DAB+ services?

The technology to re-broadcast/transmit tunnels is available why not have these facilities installed?

Thank you,
Anthony from thinking Belfield
21 September 2020 - 4:42pm
As someone who often still has to drive in Sydney, I'll admit I seldom tune to DAB+ on our new car radio because it is so hit-and-miss - usually at a critical moment in a news bulletin. But please bear a thought for those of us living in rural and regional Australia, for whom DAB+ remains no more than a far-off pipe dream. We have the cars and the DAB sets in our our homes but not a hope in hell of making use of them in the foreseeable future. I remember more than two decades ago taking part in industry planning committees for the introduction of DAB. We were excited, energised and even drew up our own network schedules for the great new digital radio age. What a waste of time that was. Even the best networks in Australia still run only a fraction of the programming DAB should enable and it is still unavailable altogether outside the major cities. Yes, web radio, streaming and podcasting on mobile devices have made DAB less attractive, but we are now heading towards a situation where whole generations of Australian radio listeners will have skipped from terrestrial analogue to Internet-delivered mobile digital radio without ever once tuning in their DAB-ready sets. It's 8-track, Betamax and DAT all over again. We should all be ashamed.
Nigel Holmes
22 September 2020 - 10:42am
DAB+ was a European solution to a European problem. Next to worthless as a distribution option for most of Australia. Its best application was in urban environments such as Sydney yet what do we find today??

Canada correctly identified the fragility of DAB+ in a broadcast space with similar population dispersal and densities.

Data networks for the mobile market will ride rough shod over DAB+ in CBD & town and the ultra regional folk will continue to enjoy AM while it lasts.
22 September 2020 - 3:12pm
Norway decommissioned all analog radio in 2017. For their huge number of tunnels they use http://www.paneda.no/break-in-systems-for-tunnels/
which are coupled with leaky RF cable down the length of the tunnel as used for FM.
Dingram, the coverage area of capital city DAB+ broadcasts has been made by using spot checks. They need to find the black spots by using the ACMA
s software www.myswitch.gov.au but with the European Broadcasting Union's requirements for reliable reception. There are quite a few metro TV translator sites which also require DAB+ repeaters. A repeater receives and transmits on the same channel.

Nigel, the reason why the Canadian DAB failed was that it was on 1.4 GHz band not 200 MHz and also it was the old DAB which has poorer error correction and inefficient audio compression.

For regional Australia DAB+ does not have a large enough coverage area and there are only 8 transmission channels available. A much better option is Digital Radio Mondiale in the vacant TV channels 0 - 2 ie 47 - 50, 54 - 68 MHz. The free space loss through the air is 1/12th of that of DAB+ and 1/4 of FM. There is a 6 channel modulator which can carry all 18 ABC/SBS digital programs on one transmitter. DRM can also carry noise free, no distortion, stereo sound on the high frequency (SW) band to cover the whole of Australia from a high powered transmitter in the centre of Australia.

22 September 2020 - 6:29pm
Poor DAB+ reception in tunnels could cost lives? Bit of hyperbole, methinks. It's more likely preserve our sanity by cutting out some of the drivel fromshock jocks.

But seriously - if DAB+ is available in a car, then so, most likely, is the ability to connect to streaming via mobile internet. Streaming's also available in areas not served by DAB+ or even decent FM reception.

I don't drive through tunnels much, but I use DAB+ and streaming almost exclusively in the car. I'd rather have a DAB+ signal which cuts out momentarily than marginal FM reception.
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