With digital TV already in place, the attention has turned to radio. Norway is taking the lead by confirming a 2017 analogue blackout date, and Telenor subsidiary Norkring eyes business opportunity in helping the country go digital.
Today when you get into your car, turn on the radio and tune into your favorite station, your focus is most likely on quality of the music played, the latest news and traffic updates. Chances are you have never said, “I sure wish I was listening to digital radio.”
Digital radio enables more channels for less bandwidth
Over the last decade, the switch to digital TV was a transition that had visible value for the average consumer. They could see an actual improvement on their TV screens. Digital radio, so far, has not had quite the same allure, as sound quality may not noticeably improve. The promise of digital radio is increased capacity, meaning more channels for less bandwidth. This is most enticing for the broadcasters of radio content, which is why they are lobbying for this inevitable evolution. The Norwegian government has heard their pleas and as a result will be the first in Europe to officially end the analogue era.
What is Norkring?
Norkring is the Telenor subsidiary that currently provides the infrastructure needed to broadcast radio and television in Norway, Slovenia and Belgium. They are the network operator – the people who own the equipment and provide the service. Norkring does not offer end-user equipment or pay TV services. They sell their services to the largest TV and radio stations in the countries where it operates.
With the Norwegian government laying down its decision to wipe out all analogue radio signals by 2017, Norkring is now in a position to offer its services in radio’s digital transition, as they did with the digital terrestrial TV project from 2007-2010. Norkring is currently responsible for all the analogue (or FM) signals in Norway today, and additionally offers digital audio broadcast (DAB), a type of digital radio, to the country.
Invest in the old or bring in the new
“Today’s analogue equipment is old and we are faced with a situation in which we either need to re-invest in the upgrade of this equipment or we need to go digital. That is Norway’s reasoning behind setting the fixed end-date for analogue radio,” explained TorbjÃ¸rn Teigen, CEO, Norkring. “There is definitely industry pressure to do something new, rather than investing in the previous century’s technology.”
DAB has actually been around for 10 years already. It is the preferred digital radio choice of Europe, and other countries are slowly but surely putting the pieces in place to make the transition. However, Norway is currently the only European country to officially declare the absolute end of analogue.
Finally making the digital decision
“Digital radio is a tougher sell to the authorities than digital TV,” said Teigen. “While digital radio does hold the promise of more radio channels reaching all parts of the country, that isn’t something the government would typically prioritize, which is why it has taken 10 years. But now with the need for a new investment in infrastructure and a heavy push from the broadcasters, it is happening.”
Terrestrial radio vs. mobile broadband
Even though the move to digital radio may not be a revitalization of the much-loved medium, Teigen believes that without this switch, terrestrial radio may soon become a thing of the past. Mobile broadband is on the rise and could take over the territory formerly occupied by terrestrial.
“Our belief is that in 10 to 15 years, there will be a lot of mobile broadband solutions. But we will also need the broadcast networks, due to their efficiency,” said Teigen. “At Telenor we believe that there is room for both mobile broadband and broadcasting in the future, which is why it is important for us to have both technological platforms.”
Investing in the future of radio
To most, the transition to digital radio may mean nothing more than a trip to the local electronics shop, but to Teigen and Norkring, it is an investment in the future of terrestrial radio. And as one of the largest network operators in Europe, Norkring is well-positioned to help Norway and other countries make this move.
“Digital radio is the way the world is going, as the demise of analogue is inevitable,” said Teigen. “We are already delivering DAB to 80 percent of Norway, so our next steps are to find ways to deliver this technology more efficiently and create added value for our customers.”