Government commits to 2015 DAB switchover

Digital radio switchover planned in two years; all new cars must be digitally enabled by then

DAB radio

The digital radio switchover has been a major source of controversy ever since the Government first announced its intentions to pull the plug on analogue bandwidths in the Digital Economy Act of 2010.

Opponents argue that digital quality isn’t as good as that of FM, and that the move would needlessly make 100 million perfectly good radios obsolete overnight. They also say that the DAB format favoured by the Government is already out of date, with DAB+ providing better quality.

The prospect of the conversion has been further put in doubt by the poor uptake rate for digital radio. The Government has set three targets that have to be met before FM is switched off: half of all radio listening has to be on a digital platform, digital coverage has to match FM’s (97 per cent of the country) and local digital radio has to reach 90 per cent of the UK.

However, the latest statistics from Digital Radio UK show that only 33 per cent of radio listening is digital. National BBC coverage is 94.5 per cent, but national commercial stations only reach 85 per cent of the country and local DAB services just 70 per cent.

So will the transition go ahead? As recently as last November, newspaper headlines were predicting that the 2015 deadline would at the very least have to be delayed, possibly by many years.

The Government is set to officially announce a switchover date in November, but a report published by the House of Commons earlier this year stated: “The target date, which the industry considers is achievable and the Government says it would support, is 2015.”

The organisation responsible for promoting DAB – Digital Radio UK – is confident that date can be met. Its technology and market development director, Laurence Harrison, told us: “Based on the current rate of growth in digital listening we believe the criteria will be met by the end of 2015.”

Thirteen new DAB transmitters will be launched over the next 18 months, significantly expanding coverage. The car industry has also committed to ensuring that every single new car is “digitally enabled” by 2015 – that is, they will either be fitted with DAB, have it as a cost option, or they can easily be hooked up to a digital radio platform via an aux-in/smartphone connection.

The car makers’ efforts in this area are critical, because 20 per cent of all radio listening takes place in cars. The industry has already made giant strides. Three years ago, just four per cent of new cars came fitted with DAB. In the first three months of this year that figure had leapt to 35 per cent, with a further 25 per cent having it as a cost option.

However, if the change to digital does go ahead as planned, and you own one of the estimated 25 million cars that will be left with no radio signal on the day FM is switched off, it may be worth starting your research on aftermarket DAB solutions now.

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