Farewell DAB, the radio technology we didn’t need

It missed its chance to usurp FM in the Irish market. Now it’s up to Alexa to have a go

Goodbye Digital Audio Broadcasting, the radio technology it turned out Irish listeners didn’t need and never really got to know – not in significant numbers, at least.

While DAB or its close cousin DAB+ have become widespread in some European countries and Australia, it didn't take off in the Republic. The Irish market is not alone in this respect: Canada is just one example of a major broadcasting market where DAB stalled before it properly got going.

With RTÉ controlling the only permanent DAB multiplex and its digital services the only ones on the network, its move to cease DAB transmission effectively puts the kibosh on DAB in a single decision. The confirmation on Tuesday came with the defensive note that it had "spearheaded" DAB's introduction in the Irish market in 2006 and made "consistent efforts to evolve the product at both industry and consumer level".

The other element of its announcement points to the clearest reason why – once the development of DAB was left as late as it was – it soon got to the point where it was no longer deemed necessary. RTÉ is shutting down DAB, but it is not closing the digital services that populate it: RTÉ Gold, RTÉ 2XM, RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, RTÉ Pulse and RTÉjr Radio will live on through online streaming.

The loss of DAB is unlikely to dent their listenerships. Among all the digital ways to consume radio, DAB devices were found to be the least popular in the most recent Joint National Listenership Research survey by Ipsos MRBI, with an audience reach of just 0.5 per cent. This gave DAB an even smaller reach than the 0.6 per cent who said they listened to radio through a TV set.

The most common way to consume radio digitally is through mobile devices, which have a reach of 4.8 per cent, followed by PCs/laptops on 1.9 per cent. But it is smart speakers, currently sitting on 1.7 per cent, that have the potential to surge in use and overtake others.

Indeed, even in markets such as the UK where DAB has been successful, the radio industry is at pains to remind listeners that they can listen to their services through smart speakers. Here, traditional FM radio might remain king for now, but there can be little doubt that Alexa has designs on its throne.

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