“I already have an FM network and I am not paying to build a new digital one”. Sound familiar?”
Well, it is still wrong. some forget to take into account that it costs a lot of money to run an FM network. You may already have it, but running costs will remain considerable. An FM network costs more to run than a DAB+ network, a lot more if you want a selection of channels. FM needs one transmitter for every radio station while one DAB+ transmitter can broadcast up to 20 radio stations.
Let us look at figures from Norway, where FM will be switched off in January 2017. DAB/ DAB+ already covers 84% of the population. By the end of 2014, the Norkring run DAB+ network will cover more than 99.5% of the population with almost 20 radio stations. Currently, only one radio station (NRK P1) covers the same amount of people.
To clarify, let us say that to transmit NRKs radio stations on FM costs 1,000 Euro annually (the real figure is many thousand times higher). This means one station (P1) can reach 99.5% of the population, while P2 reaches 99% and P3 reaches 95%. Two additional radio stations (NRK mP3 and NRK Always news) are available to 30% of the population.
FM upgrades needed if not phased out FM would need a total upgrade if it were to be continued past 2016 and the price would then increase to 1,400 Euro annually from 2015. This is a cost that is usually forgotten.
DAB/ DAB+ Now
To transmit up to 20 radio stations to 99.5% of the population will cost 1,030 Euro annually. This may be 3% more than FM currently but there is the benefit of broadcasting up to 20 more stations and all those stations to everyone. Running costs are 26% lower than if staying on FM! More stations are more democratic and provides more choice, especially to those living in rural areas.
Distributing via both FM and DAB/DAB+ should also be accounted for. The FM costs will be as indicated above, although somewhat reduced as it will gradually be phased out during the last two years. This saves 1400 Euro annually as opposed to continuing with FM only. NRK currently has 15 radio stations, but will soon add to this.
To transmit DAB in addition to FM costs 250 Euro in 2012, 600 Euro in 2013 and 870 Euro in 2014 (before reaching 1,030 Euro per year from 2015). This additional cost of DAB for the five years of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 adds up to 3,780 Euro. NRK will however save 1,400 Euro in the same period on FM being phased out. The real extra cost of double distribution for those five years is therefore 2,380 Euro.
As DAB (1030 Euro per year) is cheaper than an upgraded FM (1400 Euro per year), NRK will start paying less per year already in 2017, while the accumulated costs will be lower five and a half years later, in June 2022. The cost comparison can also be put in a different manner. Figures from Teracom and SRG SSR show that one radio station via DAB+ costs respectively 5 and 6 times less than via FM. There are many reasons to go digital, the chart sheet shows yet another. The computer says DAB+.
DAB+ provides a modern network which can handle parallel and additional services with many more stations for everyone, unlike FM. Both NRK and the listeners win.
A larger version of the table can be viewed by clicking here.
When it comes to digital radio, we also hear a lot about DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale). It Comparisons year by year. For this example’s sake, a price of current FM distribution was set to 1,000 Euro per year. All other figures can be seen in relation to this. The costs are based on NRK figures. covers vast areas with few transmitters (i.e. India). It has also been used in Germany by Deutschlandradio, until it was switched off in late 2012. Why? It cost the broadcaster 12 million Euro per year to run the system, exactly the same costs as for DAB+. The difference? Their DRM capacity was limited to 40kbps, just about enough for one radio station. Their DAB+ offering provides 400kbps, 10 times as much for the same price. And while there are hundreds of receiver models capable of receiving DAB+, there are only a handful of DRM receivers.
DRM is a good option when you want to cover big areas with few radio stations or to reach remote areas. simply put, DRM is ‘the AM of digital radio’ and should be seen in such a context.
Independent report on distribution networks
Just out is a related report by independent Dutch research institute Tno which compares various networks that may be used for digital radio and mobile television. Please get in touch with IDAG or the WorldDMB Project office if the report is of interest. WorldDMB members are entitled to a 35% discount on the report.
CEO of NMTV (Norwegian Mobile TV Corporation)
President of IDAG (International DMB Advancement Group)
Advisor on Distribution, NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation)