Arqiva warns radio industry about analogue radio costs; outlines DAB roll-out timetable

Arqiva provides the infrasturcture for the UK's digital TV and radio networks
Arqiva's Managing Director of Terrestrial Broadcast has warned of the costs of maintaining FM analogue radio alongside DAB digital radio, days after the Government declined to set a date for a digital radio switchover.  Steve Holebrook also confirmed plans to boost local DAB coverage within the next 24 months.

In a blog post responding to Monday's Government announcement, in which Communications Minister Ed Vaizey announced future expansion plans for DAB digital radio, but not a switchover date for digital radio, Steve Holebrook warned the radio industry that if they wanted to retain the analogue transmission networks for an extended period, it would "require significant additional investment at a level in excess of what is needed to fully roll-out DAB. The network equipment which supplies the analogue signal will be 20 to 30-years-old by the time we get to 2020 and to be reinvesting in such technology when the rest of communications around the world is going digital seems inappropriate. Providing clarity over whether we are heading for a switchover could actually save the industry significant amounts of money."

Digital radio switchover is currently a hot topic in the radio industry, with some smaller radio stations recently going public in their objection to a switch to digital.

Mr Holebrook also confirmed that Arqiva would be completing the launch of the remaining local DAB multiplexes currently not on-air  "in the next 24 months", "adding a further 2 million local listeners".

Cumbria, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, North Wales, North Yorkshire and Suffolk are the main areas where there is currently no local DAB digital radio provision. Derbyshire is expected to be the next local DAB multiplex to launch by Spring 2014.

200 local DAB transmitter sites will be added across the UK, consisting of new sites for new local multiplexes and new sites to boost coverage on existing local services. The new sites will increase local DAB coverage from 72% to 90% of the UK population.

Additionally, within the same time period, Arqiva will build the BBC National DAB multiplex to cover 97% of the population, and a second national commercial DAB multiplex will be licenced to offer additional radio choice.

Concluding his blog post, Mr Holebrook said: "As we found out first-hand with digital TV, a switchover is a journey that must be made with all parties working together. Ed Vaizey has made it clear that the outcome for the UK is going to be digital. At Arqiva, we will continue to build the supporting infrastructure so we can accelerate progress to a digital radio future."

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