Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2034 Transmitters Are 1484 Too Many

This transmitter on Røverkollen north
of Oslo is one of 53 big ones. Neither
of those will be taken down, but
remain in use for digital radio.  
There are currently 2,034 FM transmitters in use to broadcast the radio stations of NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation) in Norway. What does that mean, exactly? Is that a lot or not? Well, there are 4,925,000 inhabitants in the land of the midnight sun, a very rural country with a lot of villages and remote farms, deep fjords and wild mountains. The topography and geography makes the country very hard to cover with any kind of a signal. Thanks to the stunning but challenging nature (especially in Northern Norway (where I was born :) and on the West Coast (where I grew up ;)), one transmitter is needed for every 2,421 persons, on average.

Let us compare with Denmark, a country with 5,525,000 inhabitants. Norway is 7.5 times bigger area wise and Denmark has no mountains (barred a few hills stretching less than half the height of Empire State Building), so the comparison is not quite fair. Nevertheless, they only need 79 transmitters to cover their country with four main channels. That means one transmitter for every 69,936 person on average. A slightly less expensive country to cover, in other words.

Let's return to Norway where the 2,034 transmitters have been put up on 1,179 sites (there are 25 sites in Denmark). A site is a tower or an antenna.

Why are there more transmitters than sites? 
There are more transmitters than sites because one FM transmitter can only broadcast one radio station. So if you want two radio stations in an area, you will need two FM transmitters, but only one site or antenna. In Norway NRKs three main stations P1, P2 and P3 are being broadcast via FM to 'everyone' while the two niche stations mP3 and NRK Always News are being broadcast in only 13 towns and cities. 'Everyone' means 99.8% of the population for P1, above 95% for P2 and above 90% for P3.

The situation is very different in a much better way with digital radio which, in 35 countries across the world, means DMB, DAB and DAB+. One such transmitter can transmit all the radio channels simultaneously. That saves electricity, but it more importantly ensures that 'everyone' will get all NRKs radio stations. 'Everyone' will in this case mean at least the same as what is currently the case for P1, NRKs main radio channel, an impressive 99,8%.

When the Norwegian government decides to switch off FM and digitalize radio as the last media, the number of sites will be cut in two to between 500 and 600. A similar number of towers can in other words be taken down and the equipment reused elsewhere or recycled. The number of transmitters will be cut in three or even four to the same number as sites needed to cover at least 99.8% of the population, between 500 and 600. That means a reduction of between 1,434 and 1,534 transmitters used for radio. The transmitters that are owned and operated by Norkring, a Telenor subsidiary, may in some cases also be used for other kinds of transmissions.

In addition to the three main radio stations and the two niche ones, NRK has eight additional niche stations (NRK Gold, NRK Sports, NRK Super, NRK Classical Music, NRK Jazz, NRK Folk Music, NRK Weather and NRK Sami (in Lappish)) that are available via DAB and web radio. By digitalizing radio, everyone will get access to all thirteen radio stations (plus additional commercial radio stations). Some people would call that democratization, others would call it choice.

DAB: Everyone Gets Everything (Alle får alt).

Also relevant:
DAB is 20 Times Greener Than FM.

21 Reasons Why FM is Almost History.