Norway’s Changing Airwaves: A Foreshadowing of the United States’ Shifting Radio Channels -Why You Should Care

The change to digital radio in an entire Scandinavian country is a reminder of changing regulations governing the telecommunication airwaves across the world. These changes can impact how well your wireless audio equipment works into the future!

Norway will officially begin switching radio stations to digital-only this year.  This will cause some listeners to purchase new digital radio equipment, just as people in the U.S. had to when our TV channels were converted to digital.  Norway, which has less than 300 FM stations, is a relatively small case study when compared to the U.S. where there are over 10,000 FM Stations.  However, there are still lessons to be gleaned from the transition:

  • In the U.S., the FCC has been auctioning off various frequency bands of the radio spectrum since 2010. Chances are you access the radio spectrum every day.  If you tune your radio to 101.9 FM, you are receiving a signal at 101.9 megahertz (MHz).  Your cell phone also uses the radio spectrum to send and receive data.  A large portion of the frequencies made available from the digital TV transition was auctioned off to consumer wireless corporations such as Google and Verizon and partially reserved for public safety services.  The FCC now prohibits the operation of wireless microphones and similar devices in that frequency band (700 MHz).  The auction is ongoing, and the proposed frequency ranges for auction have made various changes.  The projection is that by 2020, much more of the formerly available airwaves will become prohibited for non-emergency wireless devices such as microphones.
  • The way equipment transmits specific radio frequencies is highly regulated nationwide and globally. Traditional analog FM and AM radio transmissions should remain intact here in the States for the near future.  S. Television on the other hand, has said goodbye to analog broadcasting, making way for new changes to the how users can operate in the radio spectrum.  The volatility of regulations to the radio spectrum leads to the need for new equipment that will function in these new frequencies.
  • Unfortunately, much of the wireless audio equipment in use today will soon have to be replaced to work in an FCC authorized space. This especially affects systems in use in densely populated areas with lots of wireless activity.  Various manufacturers are producing new wireless systems that operate in the updated list of available bands of radio frequency.  Wireless systems operating in dated frequencies will face the same sad ultimate fate of Norway’s analog radio equipment.
  • Where listeners in Norway have the simple task of ensuring that new radio equipment has a digital receiver, buying the right wireless audio equipment in the U.S. takes a little more knowledge and insight to ensure a future-proofed system. Proper radio frequency coordination is vital to maintaining a working wireless audio system.

It has been a complicated and sometimes flawed process for the FCC and their reallocation of the radio spectrum over the past years. President Trump just recently designated Ajit Pai as the new Chariman of the FCC. According to Pai’s profile on the FCC webpage , it states that the FCC must free up more licensed spectrum for use by wireless carriers and more unlicensed spectrum for things like Wi-Fi. Pai’s profile also states that consumers benefit most from competition, not preemptive regulation, which is a philosophy that could lead to a new direction for how the FCC operates.  It’s hard to know what changes the new chairman will put in place affecting wireless audio systems, but it is likely that the way we can use the radio spectrum will continue to change.  As we look further into the future of the busy airwaves, detailed wireless equipment research needs to be paired with a strong education of available and FCC-legal products before investments are made in new systems.