Christer Hederström, a Media Analyst based in Stockholm, Sweden, writes for RadioToday about the recent international press received following Sweden’s latest DAB situation.
“In Sweden a proposal has been presented on how to digitalize terrestrial radio, not why.
The plan consists of a mutual launch, extension of the licenses for commercial radio stations to broadcast analogue and a conditional shutdown of FM transmissions. However, the proposal is met with overwhelming negative opinion.
It is proposed that a transition from FM to DAB+ will be implemented 2016-2024 and FM transmissions will be discontinued in 2022, given that four conditions are met. Digital transmission of public service has the same coverage as its existing FM transmissions. Digital transmissions offer broader choice and more value for the listener. 50 per cent of the radio listeners daily listen to DAB+. And finally, that there are economical and practical possibilities to convert car receivers for digital reception. Community radio will continue to broadcast on FM for the time being.
In foreign media this has been presented as Sweden has taken a decision to go DAB+. The announcements from Sweden and Switzerland send a clear statement that the future of radio is digital, claims Patrick Hannon, president of the lobby organization WorldDMB.
However, the Swedish government has not taken any kind of decision regarding digital radio. The former government commissioned the digital radio coordinator and she has now presented her roadmap.
The new government is not bound to take the case further and has not yet made any decisions including any preparation for a proposal to the Parliament next autumn. If the government will take this further it will, as earlier stated in Parliament, look into technical and economical aspects including consumer needs, if terrestrial digital radio is needed and if DAB+ is the right choice of system. The Ministry of Culture will shortly submit the proposal for consultation.
The politicians will also have to wait until March 2015 for the National Audit Office review on public involvement in the DAB introduction process since 1995. The National Audit is especially questioning if the taxpayers will get their money worth. Will it be efficient to construct a completely new infrastructure for radio?
The proposal to introduce DAB+ has been met with clamorous opposition in news media op-eds and on social media. Support has only come from the DAB promoters as the public service company, the two major commercial companies and the broadcast provider.
A statement by the renowned Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) is regarded a serious setback for DAB promoters “It’s expensive and unnecessary to invest in on-air digital radio”. IVA says that consumer needs are better catered to by today´s technologies. The days are gone when producers could decide how and information should be distributed and consumed.
According to IVA there are technologically several flaws with DAB+ . The academy is concerned that the digital platforms for television DVB-T and DVB-T2 is not also used for distribution of radio. The academy regard the increasing distribution capacity on Internet will make mobil and fixed broadband will function much better for the future proposed period than the capacity which is being discussed today.
With this background it is highly doubtful that there should be significant public investments in a stand-alone digital radio network based on technology which already today can be regarded as outdated. IVA recommends that radio can develop on-line, also in use with DVB-T2, and that today’s FM network and receivers should be retained. Thus there will be no need for an expensive and bad DAB+ solution, says IVA.
Two major motor car organizations have criticized the proposal for “forgetting the motorists”. The average life span of cars in Sweden is 15 years. Millions of cars will after 2022 have FM radio only.
One of the coalition government parties is maintaining its opposition to a national venture in digital terrestrial radio using the DAB system. “I don’t envisage DAB as an interesting alternative. But the proposal will be put on consultation and based on received answers we will take a decision if there will be a need of more enquires,” says Niclas Malmberg MP for the Green party and spokesperson for culture and media.
The other government party the Social Democrats while in power in 2005 put a lid on the first effort to introduce DAB in Sweden which started in 1995.
Sweden is one of the most connected countries in the world with 92% of household broadband penetration and a 4G/LTE mobile broadband network covering 100% of the population. 72% of the Swedes have a smartphone. In a couple of years the next generation 5G will be launched dramatically increase broadband capacity.
The driving force behind broadband capacity expansion is video. A television channel will use 30-45 times more capacity than a radio channel. For a smartphone user on-line radio will be a bonus rather than an expense.
The Swedes while not complaining over their modern and robust FM network love the additional choice of radio and music in their smartphones. Certainly it looks like DAB+ – not being a part of the dynamic connected world – will have quite an impossible uphill battle.”
Christer Hederström has been engaged for several decades in the radio and television sphere in Sweden and internationally including media advisor and other missions for the government. Today member of the board of Public Service Council, Radio Academy, Digital Radio Sweden and Community Media Forum Europe (Brussels).