World first as Norway turns off FM radio and goes digital only

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • Old FM analogue technologies have been with us for centuries but demanding infrastructure requirements, poor signal quality and low data rates mean that a switch to DAB is long overdue


 

All of you reading this article will have grown up listening to FM radio – mainly because it’s still available in every country on the planet, but now, in a landmark decision Norway has become the first country in the world to switch off FM radio despite concerns about the move being premature.

 

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The northern county of Nordland stopped broadcasting using analogue frequencies on Monday as the Government plans to roll out digital-only radio over the course of the year.

Oslo hopes the measure will save 200 million Norwegian krone (£19 million) a year as the country has struggled to make sure its ageing FM equipment still emits signals over its vast, sparsely populated territory, which is covered in signal-blocking fijords and forests.

Stephen Lax, a lecturer in Communication Technology at the University of Leeds noted that Norway’s geography made analogue radio transmission particularly difficult.

“Norway has many mountains and valleys that the robust nature of DAB can help with. Additionally, its FM radio infrastructure was coming to the end of its life, so they would’ve needed to either replace it or fully commit to DAB anyway. DAB can run at lower power levels so the infrastructure electricity bills are lower. Also the sound quality is better,” he said.

The Government estimates that 70 per cent of Norwegian households already have a digital set and pointed out the country has 26 DAB stations but only five on FM but critics have said there are over two million cars on the roads which do not have DAB radios, which could be potentially dangerous during the winter months when Norwegians rely on radio updates about adverse weather.

 

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Ib Thomsen, an MP from the Progress Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, said the country was “not ready” to make the switch yet.

“There are 2 million cars on Norwegian roads that don’t have DAB receivers, and millions of radios in Norwegian homes will stop working when the FM net is switched off. So there is definitely a safety concern,” he said.

But the head of Digital Radio Norway, a organisation set up by state broadcasters NRK and P4 to manage the transition, Ole Joergen Torvmark, is optimistic about the change over.

“We’re the first country to switch off FM but there are several countries going in the same direction,” he said, and meanwhile  Switzerland is also planning to phase out its own FM transmitters by 2020 and Britain is considering following suit once the proportion of people listening to digital radio reaches 50 per cent.

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