We all remember the transition from analog television to digital terrestrial (DTT). Millions of homes were forced to purchase decoders, at least until the advent of the first televisions equipped with the necessary technology. Sooner or later something similar will happen with FM radio.
This is because of DAB+ technology (acronym for ‘Digital Audio Broadcasting’), which converts analog signals to digital for transmission in the FM frequency range. In the words of Teofel firm’s country manager Spain Sandra Aguilar: “The main feature of this system is that instead of transmitting waves with the original audio, packets of digital information are transmitted which the receiver converts into sound.”
However, DAB+ should not be confused with Internet radio: it is a different standard to its predecessors (FM and AM) that offers two fundamental advantages. Firstly, a fairly high audio quality “thanks to its efficient audio codec (HE-AAC v2), which means the sound is clear and sharp,” Aguilar details.
The other differentiating point is reception quality: “Because of the way the data is transmitted, users are much less likely to experience outages in areas with poor coverage. In addition, the DAB+ compression technology enables up to 200 stations to be available in an area.” which means a greater variety of programming options for the user.
DAB+ also enriches the listening experience by allowing the transmission of additional information: the name of the artist, the lyrics of their songs and even the latest headlines.
Spain, on the tail of implementation
With similar properties compared to conventional emissions, it is strange that the technology has not started in Spain. In contrast, countries such as Norway have already started their analogue switch-off and others such as Poland or Switzerland plan to complete it in the next few years. The United Kingdom, France and Germany have also experienced growth in DAB radio consumption over the past five years.
Currently, DAB and DAB+ (its most advanced version) cover barely 20% of the radio coverage area in Spain. Despite the start of broadcasting in 1999 by Royal Decree, we only get digital channels in Madrid and Barcelona. Since then and against all odds, the offer has only decreased.
According to Aguilar, the reasons for this failed implementation are found in the lack of infrastructure: «It has been a determining factor that this technology has not moved in Spain at the rate of other European countries. Also the lack of a clear strategy on the part of the Spanish authorities regarding the end of FM radio.
To make matters worse, the autonomous communities themselves do not seem very open to the advent of this new way of consuming radio: “They decided not to put the available stations out to tender and now it will be the Constitutional Court that will decide.” how to proceed.”
Will I still be able to listen to the radio in the car?
This question is asked by many users whether their radio transmitters (including the one in the car) will become useless after DAB broadcasting is implemented in our country. Drivers should be aware that from 2021 there is a requirement that all vehicles launched on the market are DAB+ compatible. If ours was manufactured before that year, the solution may be to tune into internet radio via mobile phone (using CarPlay or an operating system like Android Auto).
A more cumbersome option is to connect a DVB-C receiver to the analog device so that it can process and transmit a digital signal: “This applies to both televisions (the old radio output would be free, and the digital radio signal would be sent to cars) as in the system via RCA or other optical cables”, explains Aguilar.
The final option would be to effectively replace our old and useless tuner with a DAB+ radio. In this regard, manufacturers such as Teufel have hybrid models on the market “so that customers can continue to enjoy the radio regardless of the standard implemented.”
With regard to the possibility of listening to DAB broadcasts via mobile phones, the panorama looks discouraging. We have to go back to 2010 and 2016 to find compatible models (the Nokia N8 and LG Stylus 2, respectively). Something logical if we take into account that most brands have also removed the FM radio from the specifications of their terminals.
Be that as it may, bureaucratic confusion will mean that the end of analog audio broadcasting in Spain is not yet a few years away.