Reports of FM's Swan Song in UK Misleading

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Digital Britain

In a week that found the Web littered with reports of analog FM's impending demise in the UK, one had to read carefully to extract fact from fiction. The excitement was triggered by a report issued by Digital Britain, a joint public/private radio panel formed with the expressed intent of establishing a road map for national transition to advanced radio services.

Recommendations in the report raising eyebrows include:

  • Requiring all OEM car radios sold in the UK to include Eureka 147 DAB and DAB+ functionality by 2013.
  • Sunset the FM transmission of national radio channels by 2015.

    But a closer read reveals that Brits aren't likely to be throwing their older radios in the trash anytime soon, as the transition date will only be reached two years after:

  • The UK achieves 50 percent or better digital listening to national channels via DAB as opposed to analog; and
  • Multiplex coverage for national channels provides coverage to at least 90 percent of Great Britain's population, and all major highways.

    Thus, the 2015 figure is actually a soft figure based on an estimate that the above conditions could be achieved in 2013.

    And despite the sensationalistic headlines, an FM analog shutdown won't occur even after the transition date. Indeed, analog FM radio owners are likely to hear more voices, not fewer, as existing FM spectrum, once free of national commercial and BBC channels, is allocated to LPFM community-based radio.

    For national broadcasters such as the BBC, Classic FM, and Talk Sport, the construction of a nationwide multiplex network poses a fiscal challenge. In order to encourage the commercial sector to take the plunge, government regulators promise to relax the re-licensing process and ease regulation on local broadcasters, while the BBC commits substantial sums of cash to capitalize the infrastructure build-out.

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