In-store demos of DAB radios 'could be misleading'Ofcom grant licenses for in-store DAB boosters

24 January 2009

Ofcom logo

Ofcom logo

Ofcom has granted a licensing scheme allowing electrical goods outlets, such as Currys, to install DAB signal boosters. The move is designed to improve DAB sound quality and drive flagging sales, but there is concern from industry analysts that the move contradicts the Consumer Act.

The move follows a year-long trial of DAB repeaters installed in Currys Superstores and branches of John Lewis, and now puts in place a new permanent licensing scheme available to all retailers across the UK.

'Increasing sales potential'

The Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB) says: 'Many electrical retailers suffer from poor analogue and DAB signal strength due to the steel framed infrastructure of the building or their basement location. Installing a DAB repeater on the roof of the store means a signal can be boosted in-store and DAB radios can more easily be demonstrated, thus increasing sales potential.'

The DRDB goes on to report that 'Some stores have reported as much as 30% uplift in sales simply by ensuring all DAB radios enjoy clear, uninterrupted reception'. The Dixons Store Group International (DSGi) has already installed more than 300 DAB repeaters in its Currys stores nationwide.

Consumer rights

Some commentators have expressed concern, that this new scheme isn't fair for consumers and even goes against the Consumer Act, which states that goods taken home 'must correspond to the [shop] sample in quality'.

Lizzy Payne, digital radio expert at Which?, said: 'We recommend that when you buy a DAB radio, you buy it from a store that will allow you to return the product if you are unable to receive an adequate signal when you get the device back home. We would also like to think that the stores with DAB repeaters installed will be courteous to their customers and point out that there is a DAB repeater installed and explain what this means.'

DAB radio popularity

The Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG) expects that by the end of 2010 DAB radios will be outselling analogue radios, however recent figures show that over the last year, DAB radios made up only 21% of units sold. A survey conducted by Radio Joint Audio Research (RAJAR) reveals that 20% of radio usage in the UK can be accounted for by in-car listening, and that of the 34 million cars in the UK, between 170,000 and 200,000 have DAB receivers fitted.

Digital TV broadcasting, such as Freeview, has seen a broad uptake due to the large increase in channels available, and while DAB radio offers more channels than analogue radio does, it seems that consumers are happy with the analogue selection available and are delaying the upgrade of their radios until a digital switchover date is announced.

BBC success

The BBC's DAB radio stations have enjoyed some success, while many commercial DAB stations, including Virgin Radio Groove, Capital Life and OneWorld, have closed due to insufficient advertising revenues and audiences.

Read the Which? digital Radio report, featuring more than 65 digital radio reviews. For more information about your rights, visit our consumer rights advice guide.

DRDB's response

Since publishing this article, the DRDB has responded with the following. 'Low-powered repeaters simply allow a store to demonstrate existing DAB reception in a given area. Electrical retailers tend to be based in metal-skinned buildings, creating what’s known as a Faraday Cage effect - which cuts off all radio and tv signals. A booster allows the store to replicate the experience a consumer would have in their home environment, providing they are in the same reception area as the store. We advise all potential customers via in-store Point of Sale and our website, to use our online postcode checker to examine their coverage before buying a DAB radio. Exactly the same principle applies, for example, when buying a Freeview box.'

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