Digital radio equipment supplier sees China as key to gaining critical mass of users Asia has long played a lead role in developing emerging technologies such as digital television and wireless broadband, but one trend that has not taken off is digital radio. This is about to change, according to one British firm specialising in digital broadcasting equipment and receivers. 'This region is where the key decisions about the future of our industry are being made,' RadioScape chief executive John Hall said. Digital radio in Asia has been a long time in coming. Hong Kong's public-funded broadcaster RTHK has been testing the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) standard for several years, and is still awaiting funding and regulatory issues to be straightened out before launching the service permanently. Almost every digital radio set sold in the world is manufactured in southern China - with notable exceptions among Japanese bands - so there are signs regional markets are tuning into digital radio. Last week, six broadcasters in Taiwan received licences to begin broadcasts using the DAB standard. China and South Korea are conducting trials on a next-generation digital radio standard that enables video transmission, known as DMB. RadioScape, meanwhile, recently won its first contract with a Chinese broadcaster to provide DAB equipment. 'For us, China has to be a success. If we don't succeed in China then the whole venture won't have been successful. Asia, and especially China, is increasingly the centre of our business,' Mr Hall said. RadioScape now houses a quarter of its 80 staff in Hong Kong to work in close proximity to its manufacturing partner, Shenzhen-based Nam Tai Electronics. Mr Hall acknowledged, however, that the region was not without competition for standards acceptance. In South Korea, for example, tests were also being done on a mobile TV broadcast standard known as DVB-H, while Japan was developing its TSDBT standard. Gaining a critical mass was vital, and Mr Hall believed his company was well positioned thanks to its relations with Chinese manufacturers. 'There is a considerable advantage in being first to market,' Mr Hall said. Content will also be key. John Sykes, project director for digital radio at the BBC, said the take-up of digital radio - Britain has more than two million sets installed - had been driven by greater variety of services, enabled by the technology's cheaper and more efficient use of spectrum than for analogue services. But Mr Sykes said greater functionality of digital radio was also critical. 'The killer application for the future is time-shifting. The blogging and iPod generation has told us that people increasingly want to download and store content to enjoy in their own time,' Mr Sykes said. Digital radio would enable this through electronic programming guides and increasingly functional radio sets that operated in the same way as personal video recorders for television recording.