Small-scale DAB licensing

27 July 2018

Small-scale digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is an innovative technology designed to allow local stations to achieve affordable transmission on digital radio.

Call for expressions of interest: Small-scale DAB

The Broadcasting (Radio Multiplex Services) Act 2017 made provision for the licensing and regulation of small-scale radio multiplex services. Specifically, it allowed for the introduction of secondary legislation which would apply certain provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1996 and/or Communications Act 2003, with appropriate modifications, to small-scale radio multiplexes. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is now working on this secondary legislation, and earlier this year carried out a consultation on the core elements of a new licensing approach.

In parallel with DCMS’s consultation, and without prejudice to its outcomes, Ofcom is carrying out preparatory work, so we will be in a position to proceed promptly if and when the Government introduces the necessary secondary legislation. This includes looking at frequency planning options. To inform this technical planning work and the subsequent licensing process, Ofcom is now seeking expressions of interest from parties wanting to operate small-scale DAB multiplexes and/or who are interested in providing services on these future multiplexes

Read more about and respond to our call for expressions of interest.

Trial small-scale DAB licensing

In 2015, Ofcom licensed and co-ordinated a trial with a new approach to DAB radio broadcasting which we are calling small-scale DAB.

Ten trial licences were awarded (PDF, 58.5 KB) to parties in different areas who wanted to operate a small-scale DAB multiplex. The trial multiplexes cover a relatively small geographical area compared to local and national DAB multiplexes. The small-scale DAB trials keep costs low by making use of relatively inexpensive transmission equipment and the freely available ‘open-source’ software. See the results of the trials.

Update 7 March 2018: Extension of ten small-scale DAB radio trials

Ofcom has proposed to further extend the licences of the ten trial small-scale DAB multiplexes. The trials, which started in 2015, have proved to be successful. There are currently around 150 community and small commercial radio services broadcasting digitally on the ten trial multiplexes. By further extending the trials, these radio services will continue to be available to listeners. Ofcom will also be able to continue gathering useful information from the trials, to help inform the development of a framework to enable small-scale DAB multiplexes and services to be licensed throughout the UK under a new licensing regime, on a non-trial basis.

All the current trial small-scale DAB multiplex licences will eventually be replaced by competitively awarded licences under the new licensing framework. We expect that interested parties will have the opportunity to apply for a small-scale DAB multiplex licence in 2019, depending on the timeframe of the new legislation. At that stage, all interested parties, including the current trial licensees and those not taking part in the trial, will be invited to apply and demonstrate how they think they meet the statutory criteria for this new framework.

Ofcom proposes to extend the trial licences until 31 March 2020, but with the option to terminate the licences at an earlier date in the event that a non-trial licence in the same area has been awarded and the service is ready to launch. During this period, no new trial licences will be awarded.

Ofcom has started the licence variation process with the individual trial multiplex licensees. Their current licences will expire between 30 April and 29 August 2018 if they are not extended. There is no new funding from Government or Ofcom to support trial licensees with ongoing running costs.

If you have any questions, please contact smallscaleDAB@ofcom.org.uk.

DCMS letter requesting extension of trials (1 March 2018) (PDF, 156.8 KB)