While DAB Coverage Expands in UK, Questions About Analog Sunset Linger

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Two recent stories on radiotoday.co.uk provide context to an ongoing sense of ambiguity regarding that country's transition to digital radio.

The first concerns two additional DAB transmitters just added by the BBC in Dumfrie and Galloway, Scotland. This announcement brings the total number of BBC transmitters now serving DAB multiplexes nationally to a total of 156, with each additional transmitter bringing the UK closer to overage targets that will trigger a countdown to a switch-off of most FM analog signals.

While officials overseeing Britain's digital radio transition are now hedging on a previously forecast analog sunset date of 2015, another story points to how the economics of DAB delivery could threaten a number of smaller, more localized community and student broadcast voices if government and industry don't take concrete steps to ensure their inclusion in a post-analog broadcast world.

Two factors underlie those concerns:

  • The cost of being added to a DAB multiplex far exceeds the current cost of operating relatively low power analog transmitters.
  • Recent rumors regarding development of a national trade-in plan for millions of embedded analog receivers with the intent of donating them to developing nations or scrapping them outright.

    At issue is the fate of the analog spectrum after national radio (both BBC and commercial networks) completes its scheduled migration to DAB. But smaller non-comm. radio stations, fearful that government might simply repurpose or otherwise marginalize the analog spectrum, recently received assurance from British telecom regulators that some form of analog FM will be preserved for the foreseeable future. That announcement came in response to a failed amendment to England's Digital Economy Bill in the House of Lords that would have forced inclusion of smaller community and student stations into DAB multiplexes.

    So, even as the British government continues to finalize legislation of a formal roadmap to a digital future, the ultimate fate of analog FM service seemingly remains in play.

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