Fresh off the heels of the NAB Radio Show came news that an FM broadcaster in Norway is testing the all-digital FM-HD Radio system. According to Radio World, the tests have been conducted under the auspices of the Norweigan Local Radio Association, the industry’s longest-running trade association.
Recently, two large commercial broadcasters split off from the NLRA and have created their own lobbying arm, advocating for the eventual switch-off of FM broadcasting in Norway (in favor of DAB+). The NLRA has long promoted allowing broadcasters to retain their legacy FM infrastructure; is this affair with HD Radio a strategic maneuver to convince Norwegian regulators to drop the switchoff?
Norway is an interesting specimen for digital radio because it’s one of the few European countries who’s built out an adequate DAB transmission infrastructure and seems to have multi-stakeholder buy-in on the notion that radio’s digital transition should actually happen. The government is working toward an analog FM switch-off in 2017 (which may be postponed until 2019 at the latest), though one wonders if this is now in flux.
Considering that the hybrid analog/digital variant of FM-HD is underwhelming, it would make sense for such an advanced country to test the all-digital version out of the box…especially since the spectrum necessary for it will be (presumably) fallow.
The devil’s in the programming and receiver details. Many Norwegian broadcasters have already committed to providing DAB+ programming—which itself is touted as dramatically enhancing the capacity for program diversity—though there is a growing sentiment in Europe more generally that there’s still a lot of life left in the FM band. Furthermore, the adoption of HD in the United States and Mexico has not generated much life in the receiver marketplace, where stand-alone units are non-existent, just one portable receiver exists, the explosion of content-choice in the automotive realm has already reduced HD to an also-ran, and there is zero penetration into mobile devices.
Fortunately, HD Radio’s proprietor, iBiquity Digital Corporation, does not hamstring international broadcasters with technology licensing fees, which have left a bad taste in U.S. broadcasters’ mouths and may be the number one reason why HD adoption has floundered in its home country. However, its IP policies regarding receivers are global.
Other than Norway, one-off tests of FM-HD Radio (both hybrid and all-digital modes) have occurred in a handful of European countries over the last decade, with no meaningful results or lasting commitment.
Closer to home, Canada has not yet made any conclusive decisions about resurrecting its own digital radio transition with FM-HD. Tests have been allowed since 2008, but the CRTC comment-period on latest the proposal closed in April with just 45 submissions.