UK Analog Shutdown Timeline in Doubt

October 14, 2011

A 2015 target date for the shutdown of UK analog FM radio signals that drew worldwide media attention after its pronouncement last year now seems unlikely. According to a story in the Guardian online, Ford Ennals, chief executive of the trade group governing the nation's transition to DAB noted that a slowdown in receiver sales suggests that since an analog shutdown requires a minimal DAB receiver penetration into 50 percent of all households 2 years prior to cutoff, that target may actually require anywhere from 6 to 10 years to achieve.

The shutdown timeline, which is also dependent on meeting specific DAB multiplex coverage criteria, is spelled out in a piece of legislation known as the "digital economy bill" currently undergoing approval in Britain's parliament. But by far the biggest factor underlying Ennals' remark is a slowing pace of receiver uptake. While the total number of DAB sets sold to date in the UK is estimated at about 10 million units at the end of 2009, year-over-year purchases dropped from 2008 to 2009, and may drop yet again this year as a global recession continues to nip at British pocketbooks. Some officials have suggested that the appearance of low-cost converter boxes, akin to what the United States fielded ahead of its DTV transition, could speed up the adoption process. But experts are doubtful such a solution is economically viable or even desirable, as average price points of new DAB receivers decrease over time.