This month, Norway will shut down its FM transmitters and replace them with Digital Audio Broadcasting. It becomes the first country to completely replace traditional analog FM with the new digital format.
Most of us in North America ask: what on earth is Digital Audio Broadcasting or DAB? Here’s what’s happening.
Radio broadcasting is the last media to remain analog. Everything else has gone digital. This includes music, telephones, telephone, video, books. All digital. Digital media simply means that the content is data rather than signals.
Norway believes that DAB will make better use of radio spectrum, be cheaper to operate and provide better quality. All of these assertions are probably true. Because of the technology involved, DAB reception is either perfect or missing. There is no in-between: no noise, no interference. And since digital audio is compressed, more content can fit into the same bandwidth.
Digital Audio Broadcasting – Solution Seeking a Problem
The technology and most of the standards for DAB have been around since the 1980’s. Government initiatives to “go digital” have been active for almost as long. More than thirty countries have some form of Digital Audio Broadcasting. Mostly, these are in Europe and Asia-Pacific. Canada experimented with DAB since 1999, but discontinued these efforts in 2012.
The main issue in North America is a lack of interest in DAB in the United States. As a result, there is a lack of radios capable of receiving DAB (which operates on different frequencies than traditional AM and FM).
Recently, however, Canada and U.S. have been experimenting with HD (Hybrid Digital) Radio. This proprietary standard enables broadcasters to combine analog and digital signals in one transmission. It also provides the means to send data along with the broadcast. Consequently, multiple programs or information streams can share one channel.
Something in the range of 40-50% of car radios in North America can presently receive HD Radio.
In some European countries, penetration of DAB receivers is around 50%. Generally, though, it is still pretty low around the world. If you are interested in the European status of DAB, read this report.
By the way, DAB is also affecting shortwave broadcasting. Last month, Radio Australia announced it would discontinue its Pacific shortwave service in favor of DAB. That will happen by next January.