Digital Radio: Norway and U.S. Pursue Different Paths, Yet Share Uncertainties

There’ve been some interesting developments in the digital radio realm over the last couple of months. The one that’s gotten the most press is Norway’s decision to begin shutting down its FM radio stations in favor of its DAB/DAB+ digital radio network. This has been a long time in coming, first proposed in 2015 by the Norwegian government and with buy-in from the country’s national broadcasters. That’s an important point, because the FM-shutdown, as reported in various press outlets, insinuates that all FM broadcasting in Norway is being silenced immediately.

Not true: the shutdown of stations that began this month, and continues incrementally throughout this year, only affects the country’s national broadcasters; local FM stations have at least another five years on the air before they, too, may be asked to cede the analog airwaves. A lot can happen in those years…at present, the popular sentiment in Norway about the FM shutdown is running 2-to-1 against it, especially as the analog stations disappear, their coverage areas are not served by DAB/DAB+ to the same extent as they were with plain ol’ FM, and Norwegians find themselves forced to buy digital receivers to stay engaged with radio.

It comes as no surprise that American journalists, seeing themselves at the center of the universe, would pose the question: could such an analog/digital shutdown happen here? If they were more knowledgeable about the digital radio technologies that exist they’d know the answer is no, as the U.S. has elected to use its own homegrown and proprietary digital radio technology, whose adoption is entirely voluntary. There’s also the fact that Norway only has a population of five million people — equivalent to the state of Wisconsin – and navigating a shutdown in a nation with 64 times the residents means an entirely different transition-mechanmism, which hasn’t even been seriously consered by any constituency here. Read More

European Digital Radio Transition A Mixed Bag

This month, the Media Intelligence Service of the European Broadcasting Union published a comprehensive overview of the state of digital radio broadcasting throughout the continent. Unlike in the United States, where there’s little love for our proprietary, spectrum-squatting HD Radio system, many European countries are making such great strides with their digital-exclusive DAB/DAB+ networks that they’re mulling the sunsetting of analog radio within the next decade or so.

European Brodcasting Union DAB/DAB+ Map, 2016The EBU report contains mini-briefs on 21 countries and says states like Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom lead the way in building out their digital radio systems and enticing listeners to migrate to them. Other countries such as Germany and France – who were key innovators in the DAB/DAB+ development cycle – only committed to building out a digital radio network earlier this decade. Even so, in Germany the sales of digital radio receivers already outpace analog radio sales. Read More

DAB: A Hacking Vector?

U.S. news media went bonkers a couple of weeks ago when information security researchers, in conjunction with a journalist from Wired, demonstrated how they could remotely access a Jeep Cherokee and take control of various functions, including its engine, steering, and braking. The hack exploits the fact that many cars and trucks today interface with the Internet in some fashion, either directly or via other devices that connect to them (like a smartphone).

That hack targets vehicles on a one-to-one basis, and it is not the first of its kind. But what if you could broadcast an exploit to multiple vehicles at once? Turns out this is possible, too. Researchers in the U.K. say they can transmit code within a DAB digital radio signal that provides control of critical vehicle systems. Read More

New HD Radio Applications Seek to Fix System Flaws

There’ve been a couple of interesting developments out of the HD Radio trenches over the last few months. Both are touted as advanced “applications” for utilizing the HD Radio system — but in reality they’re band-aids that seek to fix fundamental flaws with the technology itself.

The first involves transmitter-manufacturer Nautel and its experiments with FM-HD multiplexing. This practice is inherent to the DAB/DAB+ radio systems adopted in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere: instead of every station having its own transmission infrastructure, stations send a stream to a multiplex transmitter where it’s combined with other stations and broadcast as a unifed signal. Instead of tuning to a particular frequency, DAB/DAB+ receivers look for the data-flags of the desired station and, once found, decode only that stream. In this configuration, DAB/DAB+ multiplexes can broadcast 10 or more channels of programming on a single unified digital radio signal. Read More

Comparing Progress: HD Radio vs. DAB/DAB+

The annual NAB Show in Las Vegas is now behind us, and with it a bevy of announcements regarding HD Radio, the U.S. digital radio standard:

1. More test-results were announced regarding the workings of all-digital AM-HD Radio. Not many details: additional stations have conducted field-tests, and while the digital signal does sound better than the analog and hybrid analog/digital ones, it’s not as robust as hoped, leading many in Vegas to believe that, if the FCC does authorize the use of all-digital AM-HD this year, it’ll be for the daytime only. Read More