Thousands of ordinary Norwegian citizens aren’t the only ones frustrated and dissatisfied after Norway’s forced transition to DAB radio. It meant shutting down FM radio, and now NATO may find itself in conflict with the civilian DAB frequencies it was granted for exercises in Norway.
Norwegian politicians and authorities were reportedly warned before they imposed DAB on the civilian population that it could cause problems in crisis situations. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that civilian radio and the military use the same frequency of 225-245 MHz. NATO had long ago pointed to that frequency as its own when Norway decided to switch from FM to DAB and Norway’s national communications authority (Nkom) allocated space on the network.
It’s worked fairly well until now, reports Aftenposten. With political tensions rising in Europe, widespread electronic warfare, major military exercises and the modern military’s dependence on moving enormous amounts of data, NATO has increased its pressure. NATO can now demand control of the DAB frequencies that were defined as its primary area. NATO also wants to exert its rights in moves that can come in direct conflict with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s radio stations and NATO’s military communication.
The biggest test will come this fall, when around 40,000 soldiers, 130 military aircraft and 60 vessels from 29 countries will take part in NATO’s huge military exercise called Trident Juncture. Asked whether there will be problems with radio communication, divisional director at Nkom John-Eiving Velure gave Aftenposten an “unconditional yes.” Per-Thomas Bøe, spokesman for the Norwegian defense department also confirmed that NATO can override civilian DAB radio if it needs to.
That means civilian radio broadcasts can be cut out, like they allegedly were during the NATO exercise Dynamic Guard outside Bergen in February. Military communication among aircraft, vessels, army divisions and the commando center can also be disturbed.
“If DAB is silenced over all or parts of the country, we have a gigantic problem,” Per Morten Hoff, a former leader of IKT Norge and a high-profile critic of DAB, told Aftenposten. “We have no alternative (since FM was shut down).” He claims Norwegian authorities can find it difficult to air information to citizens over radio if NATO takes control over the frequency in a crisis situation. That potential problem is among reasons why Sweden, for example, opted against converting to DAB.
Knut Grandhagen, spokesman for Norway’s cyber defense, confirmed that NATO is strongly seeking reservation of frequencies 225-240 for its primary use. “The biggest challenge isn’t with national radio frequencies but more with the regional and local frequencies,” he told Aftenposten. NATO officials referred questions back to the Norwegian military.
Velure of Nkom contended that his agency isn’t operating in conflict with NATO and stressed that national sovereignty will apply. “But yes, NATO’s frequency use is also important for Norway,” he said. Asked whether DAB radio may be cut out during the Trident Juncture exercises in October and November, he said “yes, in the worst case in some areas. It depends on what type of systems the military will use and how strong their effect will be.”
He conceded that “if we had started from scratch today, and knew what we know now about the mobile network with 4G and 5g, it’s not certain we would have converted to DAB.”
Many ordinary Norwegians, forced to buy new DAB radios and even new cars with DAB radios when the FM band was shut down, also continue to complain about the costs of the transition and that DAB radios don’t always operate as well as their old FM radios. DAB can also occasionally be cut out, not least on car radios.