This morning's ABC radio wipeout hints at a big problem with digital for media companies

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Thousands of ABC listeners used to getting their morning radio on digital devices were left searching cupboards for their old analogue radios today after there was a double failure from the networks carrying the digital signal, including fibre cable was cut in Sydney’s CBD.

The compounded problems meant the ABC’s redundant systems plans also failed, leaving thousands who rely on streaming and DAB+ without radio or TV services in both Sydney and Melbourne.

Radio National, Triple J and all local ABC radio stations fell silent on digital radio, but are now back online.

The ABC said it is awaiting reports from both carriers on the failures.

The ABC issued a statement saying, in part:

Due to circumstances beyond the control of the ABC, a major telecommunications carrier responsible for the carriage of ABC Digital Radio experienced a significant outage across its network this morning.

This not only affected the primary links, but also disabled all of the redundant systems. As a result ABC Digital Radio DAB+ services in Melbourne were off air this morning for a protracted duration. The telecommunications carrier responsible is currently undertaking a detailed investigation.

Simultaneously another telecommunication carrier used by the ABC for the carriage streaming radio and television experienced a fibre cut close to the Sydney CBD. This resulted in a significant outage across all ABC’s online radio and television services.

But the multiple failures expose a major flaw in digital delivery for the national broadcaster, which is also charged with being the official emergency broadcaster during times of natural disaster.

It’s the question of reliability when thing go seriously awry.

It’s a problem for digital communications in general, as rural firefighters warned last year during the deadly Pinery fire in South Australia, after crews lost communications for four hours because both the government radio and Telstra mobile networks failed during the blaze.

And earlier this year, digital radio was knocked out in Sydney following an outage by Telstra.

The radio industry has been encouraging Australians to upgrade their old radio sets to DAB+ digital radio, selling the benefits of more choice and sound quality.

In September, Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner said more than a quarter of Australians, 27%, in the five metro capitals switched on a digital radio stations each week. The cumulative audience for DAB+ simulcast and digital-only stations audience for those five locations is now 3.60 million. Radio now is as much about smartphones, and other streaming devices as the battery-powered AM “trannies” of the pre-internet era. LG’s Stylus DAB+ smartphone hit the local market in May, with plenty more in the pipeline.

Warner said there were 2.73 million DAB+ devices in the Australian market at June 2016, including 652,000 in new cars.

Asked about the reliability of digital services, Warner told Business Insider that the problems in Melbourne were “not a DAB+ issue” but rather a major telecommunications outage.

“DAB+ technology is extremely robust. The transmission systems have a number of back ups in place to maintain broadcast operations if any one part is affected. There is also capability to increase the level of redundancy as required as the technology is more broadly adopted,” she said.

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