In Switzerland more than 120 radio stations can be received in digital form by antenna. Several companies are responsible for preparing this programming in the DAB+ format and for broadcasting it over their transmitter networks.
Radio programme services can be broadcast and received via an antenna (wireless terrestrial), TV lines (cable and IPTV), satellites and the internet. Until the end of 2019, FM was the main distribution channel by antenna in Switzerland. Since 1 January 2020, DAB+ has taken on this role. DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcasting) is an international standard for the digital transmission of radio programme services over the air. There are a number of significant differences between the two broadcast technologies of FM and DAB+:
|FM as the last analogue broadcasting technology only allows the transmission of sound signals; the use of new applications is not possible.
|With DAB+ all digital applications are possible, i.e. in addition to sound transmission, the dissemination of text, images and short video sequences as well as links for interactive services.
|Using one FM frequency, only one station can be broadcast.
|One DAB+ frequency enables up to 18 radio stations to broadcast simultaneously.
|For a station's FM broadcasting in a defined coverage area, different frequencies have to be used if there are multiple transmitter locations, in order to prevent interference. There is therefore a shortage of FM frequencies.
|In the DAB+ format, only one frequency is needed to broadcast 18 stations within the same coverage area, even if multiple transmitter locations are used. This therefore largely resolves the shortage of frequencies.
|Because of the limited FM frequencies available, private radio stations can only be broadcast regionally; regional-language FM broadcasting (e.g. German-speaking Switzerland) is limited in each case to the three SSR SRG stations
|Thanks to a sufficiency of existing DAB frequencies and generally larger coverage areas, private radio stations can also be disseminated over a larger area or throughout the entire linguistic region.
|FM reception is often subject to background noise interference if the transmitter antennas are located at a significant distance.
|DAB+ reception is always noise-free, but cuts out completely if the antenna is too far away from the receiver.
|Radio broadcasters are themselves responsible for FM broadcasting and are generally also the owners of the transmission equipment.
|DAB+ broadcasting is performed by specialist companies which lease the available programming space to the radio broadcasters.
Anyone wishing to broadcast radio programme services in Switzerland by antenna requires a radiocommunication licence in accordance with the Telecommunications Act (TCA). Depending on demand, such a licence is granted by OFCOM or the Federal Communications Commission (ComCom). In the past few years, several licences for DAB+ broadcasting have been issued.
Since the end of 1999, the SSR SRG has been operating its own DAB+ transmitter networks, as the sole broadcaster: one network respectively in German-speaking Switzerland, French-speaking Switzerland, in Ticino and in the canton of Grisons. These platforms are used to broadcast its own programming. In addition, the SSR SRG broadcasts the local private station Radio Südostschweiz on its Grisons and Ticino networks, in Ticino together with the private broadcasters Radio Ticino and Radio 3i. The reason for this is that in both regions no comprehensive private DAB+ network is in operation.
SwissMediaCast AG (SMC)
Since 15 October 2009, SMC has ensured that in German-speaking Switzerland, private broadcasters can also broadcast their programme services on DAB+. OFCOM granted the corresponding licence for German-speaking Switzerland (DCH 02) on 3 March 2008. The company is owned predominantly by the private radio stations in German-speaking Switzerland. Swisscom Broadcast AG, as the network constructor, and the SSR SRG are also shareholders, enabling individual stations (Swiss Jazz, Swiss Classics, Rete 3, Couleur 3, Option Musique) to be broadcast by SMC.
On 10 April 2012, OFCOM granted a further radiocommunication licence for the operation of a regionalised DAB+ transmitter network in German-speaking Switzerland (DCH 03). The network consists of four sub-areas (Northern Switzerland, Bern-Freiburg, Valais and Eastern Switzerland) and serves as a platform for private, regionally oriented stations. Since 1 January 2020, SMC has had to guarantee each radio station with an FM radio licence privileged access to the sub-area which covers the former FM area.
On 19 December 2017, OFCOM granted SMC another DAB+ licence in German-speaking Switzerland (DCH 05) as well as a licence for Ticino (ICH 03). The network in Ticino came into operation in January 2021; SMC decided to turn down the licence for the DCH 05 network from 31 December 2020.
Digris AG (Digris)
On 25 June 2013 OFCOM granted Digris AG a radiocommunication licence for the operation of local/regional DAB+ islands throughout Switzerland. Primarily, this platform is intended to enable complementary, non-commercial and internet radio stations in larger Swiss conurbations to broadcast their programme services digitally by antenna. For this purpose, Digris is using a new, software-based technology at substantially lower cost than for the operation of the existing large-scale DAB transmission areas. Digris is operating a total of 17 DAB+ islands in all regions of the country (as of April 2020); more are planned. The company owns the non-commercial FM and Web radio stations. Since 1 January 2020, Digris has had to guarantee each complementary radio station with an FM radio licence privileged access to the island which covers the former FM area.
Romandie Médias SA (ROM)
On 12 February 2013, OFCOM granted Romandie Médias SA a DAB+ radiocommunication licence for Western Switzerland (FCYH 02). The company put its transmission equipment into operation on 16 April 2014. ROM is an association of private radio stations in French-speaking Switzerland, the SSR SRG and Swisscom Broadcast AG. All stations in French-speaking Switzerland with an FM licence, as well as private special-interest stations, are linked to the ROM platform. SSR SRG channels are also broadcast (RSI Rete 3, SRF Virus). Since 1 January 2020 ROM has had to grant privileged access to the FM stations transmitting in French-speaking Switzerland.
On 22 September 2021, following the conclusion of the appeal proceedings, the Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) definitively awarded DABcom AG a DAB+ radio licence for French-speaking Switzerland. DABcom is a joint stock company based in Western Switzerland. It is supported by another company specialising in internet solutions and by representatives of Digris AG. The DAB+ platform came into operation in autumn 2021. Initially, it will serve the Lake Geneva region with radio stations; broadcasting will then be gradually extended to the whole of French-speaking Switzerland by 2025.
Access to DAB+ platforms
Radio broadcasters with a valid FM radio licence have a right of access with privileged conditions to a defined DAB+ platform which covers the former FM coverage area in accordance with Annex 1 of the Radio and Television Ordinance (RTVO).
For all other Swiss stations, access to a DAB+ platform is subject to contractual agreements between the broadcaster and the platform operator. A licence is not necessary for these stations. However, these broadcasters are obliged to register with OFCOM before commencing programming activity.
Foreign broadcasters who wish to broadcast their programme services unchanged on Swiss DAB+ networks require a permit or a licence in their country of origin. Stations specially orientated towards Switzerland are subject to registration; in addition, foreign broadcasters must prove they have a registered place of business in Switzerland.
All Swiss stations broadcasting on DAB+ can claim grants from OFCOM for the costs charged by the platforms. For 2020, the subsidy rate amounts to 60 resp. 65 percent of the actual costs. In 2021, a rate of 50 percent is being refunded and in 2022, the rate will be 35 per cent (only stations with part of license fee).
Promotion of new technologies for digital production and transmission (in German, French and Italian)
Minimum data rate
In accordance with a licence condition, the DAB+ platform operators are obliged to broadcast all programme services at a minimum data rate of 64 kbit/s. However, a lower data rate is possible subject to an agreement in civil law between broadcasters and platform operators.
Last modification 14.06.2022