Feature: Is 5G Broadcast Really the Future?

There has been an increasing amount of attention given to 5G broadcast, with many speculating that this method of transmission could replace terrestrial TV and radio broadcasts. However, is this really a solution to an existing problem?

5G broadcast is being developed alongside 5G mobile phone networks. Unlike with conventional streaming, where the data needs to be duplicated for each individual user, 5G broadcast involves multiple users linking to a single data stream to download data. This reduces congestion on mobile phone networks, enabling greater efficiency and faster download speeds. There are no regular 5G broadcast services currently operating in the UK. However, the BBC conducted trials using 5G broadcast to transmit radio services to Orkney, back in 2019. The technology does appear to work, but without any widespread adoption, it is unclear whether there is demand for such a service or not.

5G broadcast has been largely tipped as a replacement for the existing terrestrial TV network of transmitters, largely due to mobile phone networks and TV signals competing for frequencies. Terrestrial TV has already lost frequencies for mobile phone networks, with the 800 MHz and upwards band cleared for 4G services, with 700 MHz and above cleared for the roll-out of 5G. As there are a limited number of frequencies available, re-allocating frequencies from terrestrial TV to mobile phone networks will help to improve mobile phone networks with 5G broadcast then taking the role of terrestrial TV.

This would lead to efficiency savings, as only one transmitter network would be required, serving both mobile phone and broadcast aspects of 5G. Existing TV transmitters could be repurposed to broadcast the new 5G networks. Costs theoretically would reduce, and it would be possible for 5G broadcast services to remain free of charge like terrestrial TV.

However, despite several positives, it could be argued that 5G broadcast isn’t as good as it would seem. Advances in encoding techniques such as DVB-T2 (for terrestrial TV and predominantly HD services) and DAB+ (for digital radio), mean that existing digital signals become more efficient and require less space. The conversion of the remaining terrestrial TV multiplexes (bundles of channels on an a single frequency) to DVB-T2, would allow for a multiplex to close. This in turn would release additional frequencies for 5G, whilst maintaining the existing TV channels. This also would allow for the removal of duplicate channels such as old standard definition versions of BBC One, ITV, etc., meaning that further new channels could be accommodated.

Both a switch to 5G broadcast and DVB-T2 would mean a requirement for consumers to invest in new equipment. However, DVB-T2 is already in widespread use, having become the standard for new equipment. Switching to 5G broadcast would lead to all existing terrestrial viewers to upgrade equipment, and would also render relatively recent equipment redundant. This would create a significant amount of waste, and place an additional cost burden for viewers. With streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix becoming increasingly more popular, viewers are unlikely to be willing to switch to a completely new TV platform.

Perhaps the above view is a tad pessimistic, but before jumping to any conclusion on the implementation of 5G broadcast, it is vital that the new technology is adequately consider to ensure it is truly beneficial. There is no point in investing in new technology if the benefits are minimal, and it simply creates expense and waste.

Review: GB News

GB News has been talked about a lot recently, both in the press, and within online forums. Much fuss has been made about various technical difficulties, and a seemingly endless run of schedule changes. A recent switch to free-to-air satellite has allowed me to sample the station for the first time, and what follows are my initial impressions.

Largely, my viewing has taken place at evenings and weekends. I seem to land on Dan Wootton Tonight a lot of the time, but I have also seen parts of shows fronted by Alistair Stewart and Neil Oliver, amongst others.

I’ll get the technical difficulties dealt with first. Apart from one occasion where the weather graphics were out of focus, technical issues have been largely non-existent. On screen graphics are sharp and easy to read, the studio sets appear well put together, and lighting is also good. This would suggest that initial technical difficulties have been overcome.

Adverts are shown in a frame, to allow for the scrolling ticker to be shown whilst retaining advert small print. The ticker itself is clear and easy to read, and sits nicely on the bottom of the screen. I actually prefer the GB New ticker to the one found on Sky News, and the ‘flicker’ type headline display of the BBC News channel.

Although a nightmare for those with older, non-compatible satellite equipment, I admire the channels commitment to HD picture quality, albeit the channel is still standars definition only on terrestrial Freeview. That being said, I wouldn’t have minded if the channel was standard definition only, as I don’t feel picture quality is that important for a news based channel. The new DAB+ radio service, although using only 24 kbps, is also of satisfactory quality, with initial observations suggesting slightly better sound quality than LBC News.

Programmes itself, although being news/topical based, are more of opinion rather than news, but regular news bulletins are now present that. That being said, opinions are clearly marked as such, with little no attempt made to pass over opinions as facts. Some programmes, including Dan Wootton Tonight, open with a monologue delivered by the presenter, but again all opinions are clearly marked as such. These monologues do appear to set up the topics of conversation quite well.

So in summary, perhaps the name GB Opinion would have been more appropriate. That said the channel does offer something different, and the widespread availability means most people should be able to access the service. Scores on the doors, 6 out of 10.

Review: Capital Dance

Page last updated on July 18th, 2021 at 02:57 pm

I make no secret that I’m not a fan of the two big groups that now operate almost all commercial radio stations. Neither of their national or so called local stations are attractive, for various reasons too numerous to detail here.

However, with both the BBC and Global Radio announcing new dance stations within quick succession, I decided to give Capital Dance a listen, to see what all the hype was about. In total, I listened for about 1.5 hours at various times over a couple of weekends, using two DAB+ radios.

What was immediately apparent is the poor sound quality. 40 kbps is the bit rate, higher compared to other DAB+ stations, and although bubbling was minimal, there was no clarity or depth to the sound. Both radios gave similar results, ruling out equipment issues, suggesting either a poor technical set up or that DAB+ is unsuitable for the station.

In terms of music, most music played by the station can be found on other stations, albeit in lesser quantities. There was nothing immediately new or distinctive about the service. I’m not really convinced by the need for a 24/7 dance music station, with the existing Capital and Hits Radio stations already serving the market on Friday and Saturday nights.

I was also left disappointed by the fact that the existing Capital Weekender Friday and Saturday night shows are being simulcast on Capital Dance. These now have “All New Capital Weekender” jingles, despite sounding largely unchanged, perhaps with fewer remixes. These shows run through most of the overnight period, and suggest there is little new content available to fill Capital Dance with.

Although not a show I listened to, the MistaJam drive show is not enough to attract me to the station. Although a highly skilled presenter and dance music specialist, the name alone is not enough to draw me to the station.

Overall, Capital Dance appears to be a knee-jerk reaction by the commercial radio industry to the new BBC Radio 1 Dance online stream, having been announced after Radio 1 Dance and launched just a week ahead. I remain unconvinced by the need for either station and find the content on Capital Dance poor, although I am pleased that Capital Dance is more presenter led than other digital offshoots. Overall, only a 3 out of 10 for this station.

Review: Talk Radio Goes DAB+, is this of any benefit?

Page last updated on November 25th, 2021 at 01:25 pm

You may be aware that Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2 have both converted to DAB+. DAB+ is a newer form of DAB, which uses the more efficient AAC codec. This allows for a more efficient use of the bandwidth available, allowing more radio stations to broadcast on a single frequency.

Both stations switched from 64 kbps normal DAB (mono LSF) to 32 kbps DAB+ stereo, allowing Times Radio to launch in the 64 kbps of space made available. Talk Radio ran dual transmissions on DAB and DAB+ for a time, to assist listeners with the switch, and this gave the opportunity to compare DAB against DAB+.

The switch to DAB+ does not appear to have reduced sound quality, although perhaps there is a slight reduction in clarity. What seems a little pointless are Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2’s stereo configuration, as both are near 100% speech based stations.

Perhaps, keeping DAB+ but reverting to mono may remove the slight clarity issue.This is in stark contrast with rival speech station LBC News, which although currently uses 24 kbps DAB+ (mono), did at launch use the same DAB+ configuration as Talk Radio and suffered badly from bubbling noises and was (and still is) extremely difficult to listen to. There is a possibility that radio stations encoding equipment can affect DAB+ sound quality.

On the whole, the Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2 switch to DAB+ has enabled an additional station to launch, without sacrificing audio quality, and can only be beneficial for listeners. However, it was worth considering those who do not have a DAB+ compatible radio, who will need to replace this to continue to access Talk Radio and Talk Sport 2. Perhaps, with the launch of Times Radio using normal DAB, this could be described as a one step forward, two steps back scenario for some.

Two radios have been used to test Talk Radio on DAB and DAB+, a Sony portable mains unit, and a Roberts pocket DAB radio. Both gave similar results.

Review: +1 Channels – Are they still needed?

On demand content access has improved significantly in recent years, so I thought it would be useful to evaluate if there is a point to keeping these channels.

+1 channels of the likes of ITV and Channel 4 were established to allow viewers to catch a show that they might have just missed the start of. They have historically also been used as placeholders, pending the launch of new channels. They can be found on all major TV platforms, including Freeview.

Subsequently, nearly all TV channels have developed an on demand platform. These allow viewers to catch up on missed programmes for between 7 and 30 days (sometimes longer) after they were first broadcast. Well known catch up services include BBC iPlayer and My5.

Despite this, many +1 channels still exist. For those with recorder boxes which can only record 2 programmes at one time, the +1 channels can assist with reducing scheduling conflicts. However, as programmes are often repeated several times, there are ways around such an issue without +1 channels.

With advances in 4G and 5G mobile data, catch up services are become more accessible to smartphones and tablets. Arguably, this further reduces the need for +1 channels, as TV programmes can be accessed from any location.

Ironically, Freeview frequencies are being reallocated to 5G. Therefore, many +1 channels are likely to have to make way to ensure all channels can continue to broadcast. This means, on Freeview at least, +1 channels are unlikely to stay much longer.

I can’t find a particular need for +1 channels, and while they can at times be useful, I would rather see the space occupied by these channels put to better use.

 

Review: Humax HDR-1800T 320GB Freeview+ HD Smart Digital TV Recorder

Page last updated on November 25th, 2021 at 01:27 pm

The Humax HDR-1800T is Freeview HD personal video recorder (PVR) box, allowing you to record Freeview TV programmes to watch later. It is compatible with the latest DVB-T2 standard, allowing you to watch Freeview HD services.

This box can also be connected to the internet (via cable), allowing access to streamed channels and additional content. The device also has a USB port, allowing you to watch content from a USB memory stick or portable hard drive. Weirdly, the USB port is located on the back of the device, making access a little difficult.

As tested, the Humax HDR-1800T cost £139.99 from Argos (catalogue price may differ), and performed extremely well. Unlike some Freeview devices, this will work well with a correctly positioned indoor aerial. All available channels were receivable via this box, and recordings took place as expected. Within the menu, there is also an option to add on a buffer at the start and end of recordings, if you find that recordings start late or stop early cutting off parts of the program.

The interface is clear and easy to use, with simple menus and clear graphics. Menus are simple and easy to understand. The remote also features decent size buttons and is comfortable to use.

Overall, the Humax HDR-1800T is well priced and represents great value. The USB on the rear is a minor irritation, and no faults were found elsewhere. Guide price £140.