My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Norway switching off FM Radio as @BCJamaica to mandate Digital Audio Broadcast for Jamaican Broadcasters


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Norway switching off FM Radio as @BCJamaica to mandate Digital Audio Broadcast for Jamaican Broadcasters

“I hope Norwegians have done enough to retain radio's audience and make sure that those that haven't made the switch will make that switch. I think while with television it is important for you to go out and buy a new set, radio listeners may think they'll just play their CD collection or listen to Spotify instead. If it obliterates the radio audience it may mean we are even less keen to turn off FM and AM in the UK [and other countries]”

UK analyst James Cridland speaking to the BBC about the coming transition in Norway from FM Radio to DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast)

It's true what you've heard being whispered on the Internet, folks.

Norway has plans to switch off all their FM Radio Stations on Wednesday January 11th 2017 as reported in the article “Norway will lead the effort to switch off FM radio”, published April 19th 2015 by Jon Fingas, Engadget.

They effectively will become the first country in the entire world to switch off all their FM Radio Stations and switch over totally to DAB, making this move truly historical!

Jamaican Broadcasters, take heed, as DSO is STILL an issue and should have been implemented this year as noted in my blog article entitled “Broadcasting and Digital Switch Over - Back to the Future to compete with LIME TV”.

The use of our White Space Spectrum is also a pressing issue, particularly in Jamaica, as it is ongoing in Britain as reported in my blog article entitled “OfCom approves White Spaces usage in Britain - Why Digital Switch Over in Jamaica is Necessary for Unlicensed White Space Frequencies” and is yet to be addressed by Minister of Science, Technology Energy and Mining Philip Paulwell.

So why have the Norwegians decided to go DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast)? Mainly because they’re used to DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) already!

Norway abandoning FM Radio – DAB more efficient and is growing in popularity among Norwegians

The reason is not that Norwegians are not listening to FM or AM Radio, which is also part of their DSO (Digital Switch Over).

Rather, it's because DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast), the name given to Digital Radio, is more efficient, both spectrally as well as in terms of Power usage by the Transmitters as noted in the article “FM radio switch-off looms in Norway”, published 20 April 2015, BBC News .

If Norway switches to DAB for FM Radio, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture says they'll save some of 200 million Norwegian Krone or $25 million or £17 million per year. This as it costs almost eight (8) times more to transmit traditional Analog Broadcasts than to transmit the same content using DAB.

It’ll also improve the sound quality of FM radio, making it comparable to HD on portable HD Audio Music players such as the US$1,249 Cowon Plenue 1, the US$490 Apple iPod Classic as described in my blog article entitled “US$490 Apple iPod Classic Revival – Hipsters go Retro for HD Audio Capable Music Player”.  

Digital Radio is also be on par with HD Audio Streaming services such as Jay Z's US$19.99 Tidal HiFi as reported in my blog article entitled “Jay Z's US$19.99 Tidal HiFi launched with Artiste Backing - How HD Audio Quality Music selected by Artiste will turn the Tide”. 

Finally, thanks to the higher Spectral Efficiency of DAB, you can pack more Radio Stations into the same Spectrum, making it possible for single Radio stations to efficiently have multiple Radio Channels to suit the varying tastes of their listeners.

Currently in Norway there are some twenty two (22) national digital radio stations broadcasting with space to accommodate some twenty (20) more in the future, a testament to the growing popularity of DAB.

Norway to Switch Off FM Radio – How Digital Audio Broadcast benefits Radio Broadcasters, as DTT is next

So most Norwegians are not surprised by this decision, having been told about it some four (4) years ago by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture!

In fact, according to a Gallup Poll, some 57% of Norwegians who listen to Radio already listen to some form of DAB as noted in the article “Norway Is Switching Off FM Radio, Starting In 2017”, published 4/20/2015 by Amit Chowdhry, Forbes.

DAB can also be seen as being a lot like Streaming, but instead of using Broadband Internet such as 3G or 4G LTE it instead uses proprietary Digital Radio encoding schemas such as WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) or variants of WCDMA similar to DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television as explained in my Geezam blog article entitled “The Future of Free-to-Air Broadcasters in Jamaica as Digital Switch Over Approaches in 2015”.

Also, unlike Streaming Radio, which need the Internet as explained in my MICO Wars blog article entitled “How to get Streaming Jamaican Radio Stations”, DAB merely needs a Radio that can receive the Digital Signal.

Because it's digitally encoded and not analog like FM, you're guaranteed HD Audio Quality at all times. The higher Spectral Efficiency of DAB means that Radio Stations can have multiple Radio Channels, thereby catering to a wider cross-section of listeners.

The Radio Station also benefits, as it reduces not only their power consumption but they can also use their bandwidth to provide other services, such as:

1.      Direct Viewer Feedback
2.      Video Calling
3.      Wireless Broadband Internet
4.      Online Banking Services
5.      Election Voting
6.      Video Game

Effectively, transitioning to DAB for FM Radio or DTT for Television makes a Broadcaster into a Telecom Network, with the Radio of HDTV being the portal by which the user can communicate with the Radio or Television Station. The Broadcaster also benefits as they can get real-time feedback as to who is tuning in and when, a plus for attracting Advertisers.

And what of the FM Spectrum now bare of Transmission? It can be auctioned off to Telecom Providers along with White Space Frequencies as is currently happening in Britain as noted in my blog article entitled “OfCom approves White Spaces usage in Britain - Why Digital Switch Over in Jamaica is Necessary for Unlicensed White Space Frequencies”.

Both of these spectrum can be used to provide High Speed Broadband Services as well as serve as a Last Mile Option for providing other Telecom Services like Digital Landline.

Disadvantages of DAB – Buy a new DAB-compatible Radio and fall of the Cliff

There are a few disadvantages, however. People in Radio Land will have to get a Radio that can receive the DAB. If you are not so inclined and you’re attached to your Radio, you can get a special Receiver.

This device, very similar to a 4G LTE MiFi sold by Telecom Providers, is able to receive the DAB Broadcast signal and re-transmits it as FM or AM. This is so that your older devices can at least be able to pick up the signal in your house.

Another problem is the so-called “Cliff Effect” This happens where your DAB Compatible Radio is not getting sufficient signal to make a coherent reproduction of the broadcast, the Radio goes silent, possibly producing a tone to indicate it has a lock on the DAB Radio Station but cannot decode the signal.

This is a lot like a GSM cellphone in Telecoms when you do not have enough “Bars” of signal to make a call. In the case of the DAB –Compatible Radio, your unable to pick up the Radio Station; Analog Radios can at least allow you to hear the hissing noise in case this happens.

In other words, the same as DSO (Digital Switch Over) to DTT back in 2009, which many Norwegians are already used to and have accepted. It is now time for Radio to go a similar Digital route, with the Radio Industry in Europe watching this transition eagerly to see if the Norwegians accept DAB.

Already, worldwide, twenty one (21) countries are actively testing DAB, with many more to begin testing in 2015.

It will also create a case study that Jamaican Broadcasting Regulator, the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, can use to make a case for the benefits of Jamaica going DSO, both in Radio and Television.

However, the forward thinking nature of Norwegians and the fact that 57% are already tuned in to Digital Radio, I have little doubt that they’ll react negatively to this transition to DAB come Wednesday January 11th 2017.

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