Sweden should make a full transition to digital radio by 2022, according to a plan presented to the government and to the minister for culture and democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, on Monday.
Both commercial radio companies and Swedish Radio – the public service broadcaster to which Radio Sweden belongs – want to see a larger digital radio network roll-out. That is seen as a first step to a switchover from analogue FM to Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB+ – a switchover that could happen as soon as seven years from now.
In short, it would involve more channels on which to air radio – both for public service and for commercial radio. However, it also means that all FM-receivers would become obsolete and millions of analogue radios in homes and work places would have to be swapped for digital ones. Car radios would need to be converted.
But will Sweden’s new government, led by the Social Democrats and the Greens, want to make the investments that the industry is pushing for?
Nina Wormbs, the digital radio coordinator appointed by the government to draw up the new digitisation plan, told Radio Sweden: “The government does not need to make too many investments, but it does need to make decisions and I am hopeful they will. I was given the assignment based on some prerequisites that we have now fulfilled.”
The plan that Wormbs presented Monday to the minister for culture and democracy involves three main steps: a mutual launch, the extension of licenses for commercial radio on FM, and the shut-down of FM transmissions.
The main benefits to shutting down FM and opening up digital radio are that it would reduce costs in the long-term and it would lead to a broader and more diverse radio landscape, Wormbs said.
The drawback is that during five to eight years there would be parallel transmissions, which is costly. Also, members of the public would need to get new receivers as old radios become outdated, with an estimated 10 million functioning radios set to be discarded.
It is difficult to predict whether or not there will be an explosion in radio channels once Sweden makes the digital switchover, Wormbs said, adding that she is confident there will at least be more channels out there than there are today.
“I don’t think we will reach the limits that are technically possible because there is always an economic aspect, but I believe we might have up to 30 channels at least when we transform the network. Today, on FM, we have just six channels. There are four public-service stations and two commercial ones, though there are many places in Sweden where there is just one commercial radio station. So that gives you five radio stations in a country of 9 million people.”
DAB technology should be seen as a complement to the internet, Wormbs said. She pointed out that the internet is not always available, free or easy to access, while digital broadcasting is.
“These are two different kinds of technologies and they should complement each other, not compete,” Wormbs said.
Swedish Radio has been carrying out test broadcasts on DAB for the past two decades, while waiting for a political decision on whether to scrap FM.
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