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Why UK FM Needn't Be Killed For Broadband 108

Posted by timothy
from the next-we'll-cure-all-known-diseases dept.
superglaze writes "Alarmed by rumours of the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom considering a shut-down of FM radio in order to give more spectrum over to broadband, ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins has proposed another idea: the reuse of the mostly disused 'Band I' and the creation of a new, national open mesh network — a plan that could bring internet connectivity to everyone at very low cost."
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Why UK FM Needn't Be Killed For Broadband

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  • No revenue for kickbacks
    No gatekeeper to charge ISP fees
    No gatekeeper to monitor who is being naughty or nice

    Quick do it now and do it fast before Rupert or Richard snaffle it.

    • To connect to the internet, someone in the mesh still has to act as a gateway - it doesn't happen magically, someone routes those packets outside of the mesh.

      • by tqft (619476)

        True if they want to go to sites outside the mesh.
        How many interconnect points until monitoring becomes impractical?

        is there a way to fairly distribute the cost to maintain the interconnects?

        • My thought was more, how many mesh points before the routing tables become stupidly heavy for mesh points to handle?

      • by sjames (1099)

        For the public good, a peering arrangement could be mandated. Of course, you'd have to find enough politicians who actually care about the public good to make that happen...

  • by Nick Fel (1320709) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @05:05AM (#36703152)
    I don't know what Ofcom is thinking. Take-up on digital radio is low, costs are still high, and the benefits to the consumer are minimal when compared to digital TV. I really can't imagine people retrofitting every car and replacing every alarm clock.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There's one other huge issue - digital radio works via multiplexes, where single TX companies handle many transmitters. You can't run a single station on DAB; you have to go pay a multiplex. This costs huge amounts of money. Community radio and low power FM/restricted license FM (for event coverage, for instance) still have to be able to broadcast, even if you say you're going to put all commercial stuff on DAB, but DAB isn't a replacement for FM just yet. A lot needs to be done in organization and legislat

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teknikal69 (1769274)
        I don't rate digital radio at all it's worse quality than FM not to mention the radios themselves suck up way more power and seem to break incredibly quickly. Of all things digital I can think of digital radio is the only one that's really a step backwards in my opinion.

        Wouldn't suprise me if they forced this through anyway though for a short term profit.

    • by mattsday (909414) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @05:34AM (#36703222)

      Exactly this. I have a DAB (Digital) Radio in my car. However, I find myself using FM (or even AM) about 20-30% of the time just to get a good signal.

      Problems I've had:

      • No graceful degradation of quality. There are three modes - good, awful and "no signal". By 'awful' think a poorly encoded MP3 from a scratched CD downloaded in ASCII mode.
      • Semi-frequent drop-outs. I read that most people listen to the radio in their cars these days. However, even sticking to the UK Motorway system, I end up with "No Signal" quite frequently, even along major routes.
      • Time lag - DAB lags more than a couple of seconds behind FM, so when I'm using the 'pips' to set my watch it's off by a long way (minor grudge I guess)

      In short, I'm someone who went and bought in to the DAB idea and I like some features (e.g. having 5 live and Absolute Radio available in most places not counting the above). However, I think DAB needs some serious re-thinks before it can fully replace FM. Unless you can drive the length of the country and experience the same reception and quality as FM then it shouldn't be replaced.

      • The "good" quality also tends to be pretty poor because of the ancient encoding and seriously low bitrates.
      • by mr_jrt (676485)

        A friend of mine who works for the BBC was discussing DAB with a colleague of his and me, and pointed out that apparently, DAB was designed to be used with a satellite acting as in-fill to give the expected blanket coverage. The half-arsed implementation means they skimped on the satellite bit, so that's why you get spotty DAB coverage. Not to mention the ancient crappy codecs.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        No offense intended against Europeans, but your UK (and later EU) politicians really screwed digital radio. DAB simply doesn't work correctly.

        Over in the US we have a hybrid analog-digital system that uses the same frequencies as FM, and every station is independent of the other. No centralized multiplex that excludes low-power stations, and no downgrading of quality from Stereo to mono-aural. Plus each station can subdivide itself into 7 different programs, providing tons of variety.

        And eventually when

        • by sznupi (719324)
          There was nothing particularly wrong with FM in the first place, so such early [*] push for DAB as it happened in few places (not really most of EU; and not only in Europe) was a solution in search of a problem ...yeah, gradual shift would make a bit more sense.

          But overall, such digital radio systems feel a bit like an awkward transitional approach; possibly even almost a blip between analogue tech and "radio" consumed mostly via wireless IP networks (and those aren't screwed up in the EU, quite the cont
          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            Frankly the online radio stations aren't that good. Maybe someday FM will be dead and people will listen via their Internet phones, but for right now I still prefer my FM station. And said station is improved by the new analog-digital hybrid system. They've subdivided themselves into 3 programs:
            1 - Top 40/CHR
            2 - 90s
            3 - 70s and 80s

            Meanwhile the local classical station has upgraded from plain stereo to 5.1 surround sound. My new HD digital radio provides tons more variety than if I had stayed with the ol

            • by sznupi (719324)
              As far as I'm concerned, every "classic" FM / AM station of note also provides a stream; no need to go to "online radio stations" per se.

              Then there are new models of Last.fm or Spotify. Or how most of scheduled broadcasts could be cached while in the range of something like WiFi; typically with, say, just the news and announcements provided live via cellular, on a much stronger voice-only codec, and also in most cases not strictly real-time.

              Then there's how, at my place, "up to 256 kbps" cellular acce
              • Interestingly enough, one of the broadcast stations here simulcasts Last.fm Discover on its HD2 channel.
      • That's also my main complaint with broadcast TV... it suffers from the same problem of being either perfect, choppy and generally awful, or "no signal" Are there any digital codecs out there which have graceful degradation of quality for either video or audio?
        • by sznupi (719324)
          Scalable Video Coding H.264 extension [wikipedia.org], apparently spearheaded by Vidyo [wikipedia.org] and used by (there's a mention of Vidyo tech when downloading browser plugin) Gmail / Android / Jingle video (and presumably also by Google+ Hangouts)

          I didn't play with Vidyo stuff, but I guess SVC might be one of the reasons why Gmail video is probably the best choice on slow & unreliable connections (like it was also with Gtalk / Gmail audio; quite a few of VoIP codecs seem to do what you ask about)

          Which isn't such a problem
    • by itsdapead (734413) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @06:07AM (#36703284)

      I don't know what Ofcom is thinking. Take-up on digital radio is low, costs are still high, and the benefits to the consumer are minimal when compared to digital TV. I really can't imagine people retrofitting every car and replacing every alarm clock.

      Hmm. Is the DAB band any good for broadband? If so, I think we have a winner.

      DAB is a waste of space: its redundant in the living room, with many of the radio channels available in better quality over DVB or internet radio, and its a non-solution to the problem of cheap portable radios with widespread reception. Kill it with fire.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      I don't know what Ofcom is thinking.

      I don't know either, but I'd hazard a guess: money.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Don't forget that FM radio is used in many cars and they have a tendency to cross country borders - even into the UK.

      This can be an important issue when pushing traffic information and news.

      • by Rudolf (43885)

        Don't forget that FM radio is used in many cars and they have a tendency to cross country borders - even into the UK.

        This can be an important issue when pushing traffic information and news.

        Here (U.S.) traffic and news are mostly on AM. Does the UK have AM stations or only FM?

        • by Z00L00K (682162)

          AM stations are more or less exotic in many parts of Europe and are often secondary. In some cases AM is used more for international than national broadcast purposes. But people here will in general not notice if the AM radio stations goes offline - it's only a few die-hard listeners that cares.

          And Sweden has - or is going to - shut down it's AM transmissions from the only transmitter that exists. Almost all traffic information goes on the FM band and is supported by the use of RDS [wikipedia.org] that can interrupt the or

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I'm in the US so my perspective is probably off for this, but After digital TV broadcasting I'd be dead-set against this sort of thing here. The switch to digital TV was full of empty promises that were perhaps outright lies. Digital cable is great, but digital over the air is horrible.

      Before the switch I had about a dozen stations I could pick up here in Springfield. Now there are four, one of which is a stupid shopping channel (i.e., the "shows" are just commercials), one is nothing but country western mu

      • by nzac (1822298)

        Thats the 'free market'/US for you, nothing to do with DVB. Here in NZ we went from about 5 to 16 channels (only the original 5 are good viewing, and there is space for more) and where i live we went from poor res with bad reception to 1080i no issues. I don’t see the issue with signal fading, it takes less power to transmit digital so if they were to use the same power: areas where is was 'snowy' should be perfect, though the high res bandwidth requirements might undo the power savings. If you live b

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        (1) Over the air TV is not a free market. It's a monopoly-based system that is strictly regulated by the FCC to only allow ~10 stations to broadcast in each city... one per ABC, CBS, NBC, et cetera.

        >>>Digital cable is great, but digital over the air is horrible.

        (2) Disagree. I don't have time to type every channel, but I get about 50 digital channels overall... basically double what I had under the ol analog system

        abc,cbs,nbc,cw,myNetTV, Ion, wellness, nbc nonstop, nbc sports, coolTV, AntennaTV

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          It sounds like you need to upgrade from rabbit ears to a rooftop antenna.

          Since it's a rented house that's not an option, but I do plan on buying a signal booster. I saw plans on the internet for an antenna that was supposed to be far superior to the UHF loop. If I run across it again I'll probably build one.

          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            Signal boosters worked with analog, but have the opposite effect on digital (damage the data) and make it more difficult to receive.

            Get a large indoor antenna like the CM4228.
            That's what I use in my apartment.

        • by sjames (1099)

          So "all" he has to do is replace his cheap simple antenna with a more expensive one with a significant installation step to get back to what he used to have? How is that better?

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      I really can't imagine people retrofitting every car and replacing every alarm clock.

      It's not going to happen. I've been thinking about getting a DAB system for around a decade now, and still haven't been persuaded to invest. My car is less than 8 years old, so should have a good 6 to 8 years of life left in it ; the radio in that is certainly not going to get replaced.

      Actually, the house is down to 3 or 4 radios now, which is a slow decrease. I listen to the radio on the computer quite often now. But retr

  • yeah, cause killing analog TV here in the states went just fantastic! now i get half the channels i could previously.
    • by jpapon (1877296)
      I don't live in the States anymore, but it worked pretty well for my parents. They certainly get a much better looking picture, and like 15 channels.
      • I don't live in the States anymore, but it worked pretty well for my parents. They certainly get a much better looking picture, and like 15 channels.

        digital TV is great if you live pretty close to the transmitters.... i live thirty minutes outside the cities, so my analog was not always the best picture, but at least i could get a picture, even if the reception was not that great. now it's either there, looking great, or not there at all, and it sucks when right in the middle of your show, it just goes black, coming back on only after you missed something important! oh well, it's much better not having TV at all, i suppose.

        • by Bob_Sheep (988029)

          It is possible to get good digital TV reception at long range. I get a very good signal from a transmitter about 40 miles away, you just need the right combination of a decent grouped (not wideband) Yagi and an amplifier.

        • by nzac (1822298)

          Unless you are behind a hill this is less to do with digital TV and more someone not willing to pay for the transmission power to get it to you.

          If you are behind a hill then tough luck maybe they will someday be able to go to lower frequencies or build a transmitter on your side.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          >>>thirty minutes outside the cities

          That's nothing. I live 45 and 70 minutes from Baltimore and Philly respectively, and both cities come in crystal clear. Because digital uses less power (about 20%) you need a bigger antenna like the CM4228. Indoor rabbit ears are nt good beyond ~20 miles range.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It might be ok in Chicago or LA or other large market, but in the middle of any state it sucks. I had a dozen analog channels, now I can get four digital channels, and one of them is a shopping channel and one is country music videos, leaving me with two -- and when the analog signal would ghost, the digital signal goes away completely. It's like it was in St Louis in 1960, albeit with a clear color picture if you get a picture at all.

        I suspect in the middle of a large city it would be even worse, with inte

    • by jewelie (752077)

      Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see a correlation with the TV digital switchover in the states?

      Different technical system, different spacing of population, different time scale, different plan of attack. Plus different population spacing even means the suitability of FM versus AM is different, plus I guess you don't, primarily, have national FM stations? Our digital radio, DAB, is a crap early failed experiment in attempting to replace our national coverage FM stations with an inferior digital sy

      • My issue with digital radio is that it isn't really solving any problems and actually introduces some. This is really the antithesis of what technology is about, the sense it should be improving in what went before.

        FM radio degrades nicely, is of sufficiently good quality for all intents of purposes, is relatively low demand on power (transmission and reception) and uses cheap electronics. Add to this that in an emergency scenario it is relatively reliable.

        Unlike HDTV pictures, I haven't ever heard anyone s

        • by kwark (512736)

          "I haven't ever heard anyone say their digital audio transmission is better than FM. "

          Let me be the first one to tell you I've had better DAB reception than the same station in FM. I moved to a new building and the FM reception inside was terrible, DAB on the other hand was crystal clear. Can't tell if the audio quality of one or the other was better, the receiver and it's speakers quality was mediocre itself. Soon after the tuner got replaced by Internet streams. The only working FM tuner left is the one i

      • by nzac (1822298)

        I think that due to going with the DVB model and thus requiring the rather complex OFDM transmission. If they had had just said you can use something simple like (differential) QAM/PSK in your allotted bandwidth then it would be less efficient compared to OFDM but still pretty much work like the old radio. I would think that decoding (D)QPSK would be of a similar or lower cost than FM.

        The problem is to get as many channels as possible they allot crappy bit rates to channels to save money. If they did it 'pr

    • by Duradin (1261418)

      You get half what you used to? You lucky bastard.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      I don't have time to type every channel, but I get about 50 digital channels overall... basically double what I had under the ol analog system

      abc,cbs,nbc,cw,myNetTV, Ion, wellness, nbc nonstop, nbc sports, coolTV, AntennaTV, ThisTV(movie channel), RetroTV, MiND, LinkTV, JapanTV, PBS, PBSmusic, PBSworld, 24 hour Fox News, TBN, JCTV, Smile-of-a-Child, Enlace', Univision, Telemundo, Telefutura, Qubo, Lifetime, plus several independents that show old movies and shows (like Happy Days).

      [Half] of these channels

  • by Thnurg (457568) on Saturday July 09, 2011 @05:10AM (#36703166) Homepage

    Please correct me of I'm wrong, but an open mesh network would completely decentralise internet connectivity leaving the Government with no way to implement website blocking and three-strikes laws etc.
    While a truly democratic government would support open mesh in the public interest I doubt our lot would approve it.

    • by gl4ss (559668)
      radio amateurs form an open mesh already and there would be points of failure.

      however, open mesh blehsblash blah blah. so much talk, but nobodys shown a system that would actually scale to even a city size. yeah i'm tired of reading proposals which some bullshit spewers have even scored money with, yet nothings happening and there's a lot of issues to deal with. it's very easy to just draw a diagram of the said mesh, much harder to show what they should relay and where and how you deal with it being open
  • You'd need a pretty big antenna to transmit/receive reliably in the 50-70Mhz range. Not to mention that's really not enough bandwidth to set up a mesh network, unless you don't mind your network crawling along. lt's a neat idea, and would make a nice hobby project, but in terms of practical use, not so much.
    • Most houses in the UK still have a band I dipole left over from 405 line TV.

      I know dipoles radiate quite well, cos I have tried it :-)

    • by NNKK (218503)

      Not that I think this is a terribly bright idea, but TFA does talk about antenna size. And a quarter-wavelength around 70MHz is only 1 meter, fine for in a house or on a car.

    • by nzac (1822298)

      This is meant for houses in rural areas so antenna size is no problem.

      As for the limited bandwidth well since everything is done from the mains it would be much easier to bump up to 64QAM or potentially higher, there could be a standard somewhere for using it with OFDM.

    • by WorBlux (1751716)
      It might be, but you'd have to use spread spectrum, hi-fi recievers, and transimitters that would reduce their broadcast power when more than a certain number of nodes were in range.
  • I think this underestimates by quite a lot just how difficult large-scale mesh networking is. Last time I checked, the current state of the art didn't scale above small local meshes - it's quite hard to avoid every node having to know about every other node, and the schemes which don't have this requirement tend to instead have a hierarchical structure in which the nodes at the top of the hierarchy are a bandwidth bottleneck.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      Now correct me if I'm wrong, as I've not studied mesh networking more than just a few glances at it, but couldn't one use a distributed hash table [wikipedia.org] like Kad and other P2P systems use? After all one of the key features in those systems is they scale and are hard to kill, and isn't that what one would want in a mesh network?
      • As far as I understand DHTs, they still need routing underneath. The identity at IP 1.2.3.4 is closer to your hash target than IP 1.2.3.5, so you choose to go talk to 1.2.3.4 even though the real node is down (say it was on 1.2.3.6). But you still have to have the ability to get to 1.2.3.4. And there are no locality guarantees about routability, just liveness & hash distance on top of the existing IP infrastructure.

        I think if you try to make a DHT equivalent of routing, you'd quickly end up with dist

    • by jonwil (467024)

      The answer is to adapt routing protocols where each node has an address and each node knows which of its neighbor nodes to talk to to reach or

      Heck, just give each mesh router (and local systems connected to it) a separate IP address or addresses on its own logical subnet (as defined through CIDR) and use some variant of a existing routing protocol like OSPF that has already taken care of the hard bits (like making sure that you dont have loops)

      Not sure which routing protocol is the most suitable in this c

      • by makomk (752139)

        OSPF falls under the "requires every node to know about every other node in existence" category, and possibly also the "creates a hierarchical structure where the topmost nodes are bottlenecks" category. It's fundamentally not suited to this.

      • by WorBlux (1751716)
        The batman protocol just needs to know that direction the nodes around it are sending data in. It also support mutiple network devices on a single node so you can interconnect between physical layers based on the density of people using the mesh. Some places could use wireless a/b/g/n, or even ethernet
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 09, 2011 @05:28AM (#36703212)

    The UK government (and, well, various lobby groups of course) is rooting for rolling out digital radio (the already outdated and creaky DAB) and since few listeners care for a worse listening experience ("mud bubbles") at the price of more expensive radio sets with shorter battery life, any other reason to kill FM radio is welcome.

    And yes there's plenty of unused spectrum available now so that FM needn't be killed. In fact, there's a consultation going on right now about 600MHz which basically poses the question "what the bloody blazes shall we do with it? Any ideas? Anyone? Puhleeze?!?" virtually with exclamation marks and all.

  • Why can the UK (read UK government) not just wake the hell up and realise that the UK is a lot smaller than Australia, and if the Aussies can get plans in place for a National Broadband Network, giving everyone a fibre connection to the home, and renting this network back to telcos and ISP's, they we could do the same here and actually create a HUGE revenue stream for themselves. FFS... have Ofcom own this network, and rent it back to the telcos.

    Why do we not just stop bailing out big banks that cannot ma

    • BT's estimate will be similar to all other private companies' estimates for government work. Accurate if they were competent to do the job properly. However it will cost at least twice as much and take at least 10 years to get working properly.

  • 20Mhz! Don't make me cry!

    A single WiFi 802.11g transmission occupies 16.25Mhz officially, with interference out to 20Mhz width, That's the amount of frequency space available here. But unlike WiFi that's limited to a couple of hundred metres an FM signal can go for miles with potentially thousands of transmitters in range, sharing the bandwidth.

    With landline broadband starting to use 'fibre to the box' and getting headline speeds at or above the 54Mbps official 802.11g bandwidth and practical speeds ex

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      If it would get the government out of my data once and for all, i would accept going back to 1200baud.

      • by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>If it would get the government out of my data once and for all, i would accept going back to 1200baud.

        Then skip wireless and just go with dialup. And you'll get much higher than 1200 baud..... you'd get 53000 bits per second. 106,000 if you have a dual phoneline setup.

        • by nurb432 (527695)

          Dialup is still point to point, so a single point of failure/restriction. At least a wireless mesh will be harder to stop. ( not impossible of course. .but harder )

          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            Dialup is what the Egyptians used after the government shutdown the ISPs. It works and can't be stopped unless the government completely disables the phone system.

    • by WorBlux (1751716)
      High use areas could be augmented with Ethernet or fiber interconnects, directional gigabit wireless or plain old wireless.
  • Why would the UK need that particular frequency band for broadband when countries with much larger distances and much higher broadband availability (e.g. Sweden or Finland) never did?
  • You cannot compare FM Radio's free Music service over Paid Broadband. FM Radio is still a bliss for countries where electricity outages takes place regularly, although this does not seem to be a reason in UK, but i doubt it and those who listen to FM would fight this till the end. Those who are planning this seem not to have heard FM radio and therefore they do not know how much joy it gives. This also can be a step to compel people to pay for Music instead of listening it free, which i do alot.
    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      You will have to wait for all cars to get an update to digital radio too.

    • FM is also good enough. I really don't see what problem digital radio is solving? Instead I can see all the problems it introduces: increased component cost, rapid signal degradation, increased power use and problematic during emergencies.

      As to sound quality, FM radio sounds good enough for most needs.

      If you live in the UK and are unhappy with this move let your MP know.

  • Rupert Goodwins has proposed another idea: the reuse of the mostly disused 'Band I' and the creation of a new, national open mesh network — a plan that could bring internet connectivity to everyone at very low cost."

    I don't know how it works over there but if it has any government oversight chances are they'll screw it up.

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