Friday, February 04, 2011

Norway Switches Off FM

Today the Norwegian Ministry of Culture published a 76 pages long report to the government, to be made into legislation, saying that FM will be switched off in January 2017.

In April 2011, an 8 page long summary was made available in English.

From the report (own translation): 
The Ministry has concluded that it is  beneficial to switch off FM in 2017. This will give the listeners almost 6 years transition time. The combination of a clear shut off date for FM and some years of transition time makes it more likely that the proportion of digital radio receivers will be high at the time of shut off. 

There are some criteria
  • The Ministry demands a coverage of NRKs radio stations that is equal to that P1 [the main radio station] currently has on FM by January 1st 2015. The commercial radio stations must reach at least 90% of the population.
  • Digital radio must include additional value to the listeners [such as extra radio channels or additional services].
  • Half of the listeners in Norway must listen to radio digitally [via DAB, Internet or the digital TV network] in some form during the day for the switch off to happen in January 2017. If this is not the case by the start of 2015, the switch off will be postponed for two years.
  • Inexpensive and technically satisfactory solutions for radio reception in cars must be widely available by early 2015 for the switch off to happen in January 2017. This includes converters from DAB to FM that ensures a stable and robust signal reception. If such equipment is not available, the switch off date will be delayed until 2019.    

Look to Norway
This makes Norway the first country to decide to switch off analogue radio. That is a smart move, as FM is long overdue as a technology and because FM maintains differences between audiences as it is way too costly to build in order to give everyone the same channel offering.

DMB/DAB/DAB+ is the open standard that ensures that radio as the last media goes digital in Norway. Broadcasters will now start to plan and build increased coverage taking digital radio coverage to 99.8% (the same as FM) by 2017.

What does this mean?
This means that 99.8% of Norwegians will get access to 13 radio stations from NRK - the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation by 2017, while using only half the electricity as FM needs today. And FM delivers only one (1) radio station to around 5% of Norwegians, two radio stations to another 5% and 3-7 national radio stations to the rest. Now, all 99.8% will get the same radio offering, the same 20+ stations.  That is both a tool for democratization and a vast increase in choice. At least 90% will get access to additional commercial radio stations.

This also means that NRK and commercial broadcasters cooperate on distribution of content, while still competing on the content itself. That radio goes digital also opens up for apps (for i.e. Android devices with DMB/DAB) that will combine and integrate both broadcasting and the Internet in innovatove manners. This will include the possibility to rate and discuss programmes and tie these comments and opinions to a time line that can be archived and indexed. It furthermore opens up for touch screen voting, shopping and competitions while watching TV or listening to radio.

Increased choice of devices
What has now happened in Norway is also a very clear signal to manufacturers of mobile phones, tablets, navigation equipment and kitchen radios. Norway is a small country, but it has traditionally been one of the trendsetters when it comes to media, mobile services and technology. Others countries will follow and prices of receivers will drop dramatically while products will become plentiful and more innovative.

But will this not mean that millions of devices will have to be thrown into the garbage? Not necessarily. You can first of all buy a little converter that converts the DAB signal into an FM signal so that it can be picked up by your FM receiver, without any physical modification. Second of all, we are 6 years away from the FM switch off date. The guarantee time of a gadget in Norway is currently 2 years. The Purchasing Act (kjøpslova med reklamasjonsrett) does however also state that the life expectancy of any device should be at least five years. The switch off date is more than five years away and 800,000 radios are sold in Norway every year. By the switch off date, most households will therefore have purchased a DAB radio anyway. Just make sure that your new radio will be a DAB radio (all DAB radios also have built in FM).

And comparatively speaking, to change your radio within 6 years is not a big deal. The average Norwegian buys a new mobile phone (that easily costs 10-20 times that of a DAB radio) every 18 months and a new computer every 2-3 years.

Better broadband connections
A bonus effect will also be that the broadband connections (both fixed and mobile) will become faster and more stable as a lot of radio and television viewing will shift from Internet distribution to broadcasting via DMB/DAB/DAB+. That improves quality of service for all Internet users out there and is good news for ISPs and telecom operators whose customers will notice a better service. In a perfect world, this should even lower the prices for broadband connections as current and future traffic is being taken off the networks.

International impact
This is furthermore a clear signal to other countries that governments must play a role in digitalization of radio. Creating transparent and clear terms will help broadcasters, device manufacturers, ISPs, telecom operators and end users to plan ahead for long-terms conditions and usage patterns. To make such a decision that FM will be switched off should also help take the focus off the destructive ping-pong style discussions about standards and help the verbal fighters focus on making great content and relevant services. The focal poimt should be how to best combine and integrate broadcasting of content with Internet services. With radio finally going digital, open APIs will enable endless of exciting opportunities for apps, loads of apps with killer content.

Which country will follow Norways example next, and when? The only thing certain is that many countries will follow.

Road tunnels
Norway is also a country of fjords and mountains and a rural population. That means a lot of road tunnels. Most of these have so far been without radio coverage, but this is set to change with the digitalization of radio. All tunnels above 500 meters in length will get DAB installed by the Norwegian Road Authority as the DAB system in the tunnels will double as an emergency warning system in case of accidents or fires. More than 500 tunnels, out of approximately 1,200 tunnels in the country, are over 500 meters long.


Read more about why it makes sense to go from FM to DMB/DAB/DAB+ here:
The 2800% Difference.
Help the BBC Save 74%.
DAB 20 Times Greener than FM.
The Impending Retirement of FM.
2034 Transmitters are 1484 Too Many.

And on the relation to Internet as a distribution channel:
Why MNOs Should Love, Not Loathe Broadcasting.
Why the Internet Won't Solve Everything.

20 comments:

  1. Nice analysis, Gunnar, and the advantages that you point out do outweigh all of DAB's shortcomings, except the biggest one, and it's not even a technical one:
    Do the consumers agree that they need DAB?

    The threshold for replacing the little radio on the kitchen counter (P4-nyhetene at breakfast) or the alarm clock radio on the nightstand (waking up to Dagsnytt) has fallen along with the prices of DAB capable radios in said categories, and these are indeed the biggest areas of DAB penetration.

    However, the one place most people listen to the radio, is in the car, and here, the DAB penetration is far too low for me to answer yes to the above question.

    The thing is, when you buy a car in Norway – be it new or second hand – the chances of it having a DAB capable radio are very slim. However, the radio that's there has all the other features Ola Nordmann wants in a car radio:
    - RDS
    - Enough preset spaces for P4, Kanal 24, NRK's "usual suspects", P1, P2, P3, and a handful of local radio stations, including some of NRK's niche stations, that are available on FM in urban areas
    - CD player, sometimes even a tape deck is enough
    - AUX input of some form for a portable media player

    And that's it! That's all the average Norwegian driver wants in a car radio. Features like Bluetooth hands free and sat nav are not requirements, but they're still more welcome in the car than it looks like DAB capabilities ever will have, given today's state of DAB penetration.

    Yet from a technical point of view, it's in the car that DAB really excels with its advantages over FM. So why won't the consumers replace their car stereo?

    First, replacing a small, portable radio like the ones at home, is – as you say – no big deal. It's not only cheap, but easy to do yourself.
    Likewise, replacing the car radio should also be no big deal. Right?

    Wrong, for two reasons:

    1) As mentioned above, Ola Nordmann is happy with the car radio he has, hence, he can't be bothered replacing it, unless it actually breaks down

    But who _can_ be bothered replacing their car radio? That brings us to the second reason:

    2) Some people have a special interest in so-called In-car entertainment systems. It's their passion, be it hobby or profession, and oddly enough, DAB is quite low on their wish list. These people have a completely different set of requirements to quality and features.

    What the government needs to do, is give some incentive for people to migrate their car radio to DAB at an early stage. A pressure from the government with intent to disband FM isn't strong enough to withstand the blatant ignorance of the opposition, which in this case is Norway's vast horde of vehicle owners/drivers out on the roads. Anniken (Huitfeldt) and the MoC have to try to sell us the thought of driving with DAB in the dash - not force it upon us.

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  2. My experience of DAB in the UK so far has been extremely bad and millions of radio listeners here do not want it.

    I wish the Norwegians luck!

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  3. DAB is terrible. Poor sound quality, bad reception, it's a joke. I pity Norway.

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  4. I agree that radio needs a digital pathway and setting a target for switch-off is important. Radio stations need to be talking to the car manufacturers because by 2017 they will have digitized the car entertainment system and a discrete car radio will be a thing of the past. I hope that Norway will document this change. Other sectors of the broadcast industry do a MUCH better job at explaining what is needed, by when and why.

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  5. Surely its up to the public and the broadcastes to decide what platforms to use. Why are the Governments of Europe ganging up on the public to buy Digital Radio?

    The UK experince of DAB is not good. Small scale broadcasters can not afford to get onto the platforms and dont want too. Choice on DAB is just the state broadcaster, big corporations, churchs and minority groups. Even AM radio is sucessful in parts of the USA, as the government keeps its nose out.

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  6. @Finn:
    When you say consumers, who are you referring to? Those living in the cities (I presume that you do) or everyone else?

    People in cities have access to "everything", including concert halls, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and bars. That is not at all the case with people on the countryside (23% of Norwegians). And neither do they have access to a lot of radio channels. 10% of Norwegians can only access 1 or 2 radio channels. They want that number to increase and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) has an obligation to make all channels availble to them.

    You are right that replacing a radio in a newer car is a big deal. There are however solutions available that give you DAB radio on your existing car radio system through the use of a dongle. One example is this one:

    http://www.bilradiospes.no/m/shop/?produkt=4567&katid=11&mid=m436&id=&vn=736

    And January 2017 is almost 6 years away. By then you will have many more, better and cheaper products available. And by 2012 I believe that almost every new car model sold in Norway will come with built in DAB radio, either as standard or as an option.

    @Mike Terry and Graham:
    The UK situation is improving as we speak. The coverage will increase to 93% by the end of 2011. And broadcasters are improving the content available on DAB only. One example is the BBC6 music channel that has increased its listener base to seven figures after the station was almost axed (and the strong reactions and support that followed this). 25% of listeners are now listening to radio digitally, and this figure is is increasing by 20% every year. There are a lot of exciting developments for digital radio in the UK these days, and I hope this will help change your experience too.

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  7. "25% of listeners are now listening to radio digitally"

    Sadly those figures have been shown to be manipulated in favour of DAB. They don't include mobile radios, such as in iPods or mobile phones, and also include internet listening.

    The actual figure for DAB is 15.8%.

    I think that we'll see internet connections in cars taking over before DAB gets into cars in any volumes, it is far more useful to the driver. That certainly seems to be the case in the US where several major manufacturers are offering connected platforms.

    DAB does seem to be a dead end experiment and it's a shame that the UK has had it foisted on them.

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  8. Listening via mobile phones and web radio is surely digital listening, so of course it is included in the figure of those "now listening to radio digitally".

    That also means that fewer and fewer people listen via FM, and that again mean that the price per analogue listener is even higher now than before. Not everyone lives in the big cities with a wide selection of FM channels, please stop being so selfish! We want DAB in rural UK too in order to get a better selection of radio stations.

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  9. "And January 2017 is almost 6 years away. By then you will have many more, better and cheaper products available"

    I am pretty sure that in 6 years, the infrastructure for Internet services will have improved many times compared to DAB.....

    I am not sure who it is you want to convince that broadcasting and DAB is the future. If it is the general public/audience/everyone, then I believe you need to convince them by showing them a clear uplift in product/service before pushing the needed devices.

    After all, that is what Microsoft and Apple and likes have done in the past - like it or not.

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  10. @Anonymous:

    The Internet infrastructure will certainly have improved in 6 years. But what I am discussing here is not only bandwidth issues. Far from it.

    Find quite a few other reasons here:
    http://www.garfors.com/2010/12/testing.html

    And I will certainly argue that there is a clear uplift in products/services already for DAB/DAB+ compared to what is the case for FM. Now everyone will be able to receive all radio channels, no matter where they live. In addition a lot of related digital services will be introduced. This opens up for tagging, rating, comments, touch screen shopping and much more. Combination between broadcasting and the Internet is the future, not one technology alone.

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  11. I hear you repeating that combination is the future, but I don't think most consumers care whether the future is traditional broadcasting or Internet. All of the things you mention in your last reply is and have already been possible on a mobile phone for a long time.

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  12. Partly true indeed.

    But you have some problems, namely lack of bandwidth (in the case of many users), mobile reception (in cars, trains, etc.), battery efficiency, pricing and a number of gatekeepers (MNOs, application manufacturers, platform owners, etc.).

    A lot of radio and TV programmes are made for consumption by a huge number of simultaneous viewers/listeners/users. And those consumers don't need to know how the content is distributed, but they will certainly care when the service is poor, pricey, difficult to access or not even available.

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    Replies
    1. So 20% of radio listening in the UK is on a DAB set. 50% on FM. That means that 50% of people are perfectly happy with what they have got. So, as has been said before, why are the Govts ganging up to push an unwanted technology on the public?

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  13. "And those consumers don't need to know how the content is distributed, but they will certainly care when the service is poor, pricey, difficult to access or not even available."

    Exactly, and until that happens (if it happens) you really cannot expect the consumers to care.

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  14. FM modulator will help you get a better signal from the different stations making your car a better place to listen music. You can also buy car kits that provide better music experience and car experience combined.

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    Replies
    1. Why should I have to waste my money? My FM radio works fine now.

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  15. I do now know why the Govt (at least in the UK) are shoving this through. It is solely to appease the intense lobbying that has been carried out by the commercial radio sector who are, nearly all, in a poor financial state. They claim (and lobby) that if they didn't have to pay to broadcast on FM then they would be in the black. Tough. If they broadcast something that more people found interesting to listen to then they (the commercial radio stations) would be in a better position to charge more for their advertising and so make more money. It's called market forces. I'd rather see them go to the wall then millions of people in the Uk be forced to waste money buying something that they do not want.

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  16. best part of this post isThe Ministry has concluded that it is beneficial to switch off FM in 2017. This will give the listeners almost 6 years transition time. The combination of a clear shut off date for FM
    thanks
    Regards
    Emily.Bronte
    Cities to Visit in Louisiana

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  17. best part of this post is NRK and commercial broadcasters cooperate on distribution of content, while still competing on the content itself.
    thanks
    Regards
    Anne.Bella

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