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BEC Preview: More on the HD Multiplex

We continue our Q&A with Nautel's Philipp Schmid

Continuing our interview with Philipp Schmid from Nautel, we delve into more specifics of what the HD Multiplex could do and what it means for the everyday listener. This interview is a preview to Schmid’s paper discussion at the Broadcast Engineering Conference.

Radio: What could this technology mean for radio listeners as far as content quality?

Schmid: HD Multiplex will unleash a lot more content, whether that is news and traffic served up continuously �on demand� on a side channel, multicultural programming in urban centers or more listening choices in rural areas where niche programming is otherwise not economically feasible. Sports radio will seize this technology and bring multiple franchises under one umbrella and deliver more game play-by-play for both home and away.

With the added channel capacity, surround sound broadcasting, already demonstrated on today�s HD Radio broadcast system, will gain importance and enhance the listener experience. Binaural headphone listening, a 100-year-old technology, is making a remarkable comeback due to new virtual reality applications delivering compelling surround sound that can also be delivered on HD Radio side channels. Today�s radio station can simulcast a live concert coverage on a dedicated binaural headphone channel and deliver the on-stage concert experience using existing technology and receivers. With HD Multiplex, immersive sound will be brought to next generation HD Radio receivers. Automotive receivers will deliver a true surround sound experience regardless of the car�s specific speaker configuration and acoustic environment. Soundwave beam steering will be used to optimize each passenger�s surround sound experience.

Broadcast data services will benefit from HD Multiplex that is expected to deliver 1.7 Mbps, or more, of data to mobile receivers across the band. In a market with 1 million HD Radio receivers, this offloads the cellular network by up to 30 Gbps, 60 Gbps if dual tuners are considered. Today�s data services include traffic and weather data along with supplementary images that can be applied to music, dubbed artist experience, or ad spots. Graphical QR codes will lead to “Coupon Radio” �

Radio:��Coupon Radio� � Can you describe what a consumer would experience and how would it be used by advertisers and stations?

Schmid: Utilizing graphical QR codes, or similar bar codes, makes it possible to transmit coupons in sync with ad spots to listeners for specific store discounts applied via bar code scanners at point of sale. �Coupon radio� provides marketing feedback to the advertiser and added revenue for the radio station.� In concept this is no different than a station airing discount codes audibly, but with QR codes the audio broadcast is not interrupted.� Fine grained data can be embedded, such as what time of day and on what station the ad was received, the type of discount, the quantity it can be applied to and its expiry date.

Once an HD Radio receiver displays the QR code, it can be captured with your smartphone via its camera. If your smartphone is equipped with an HD Radio receiver, the code can be captured directly. I can see apps being developed that will organize your available coupons for easy retrieval when you are at the checkout and the cashier will bar code scan your coupon for 25% off your cereal. Unlike broadcast TV, the radio’s display, while cool, is not prime real estate making this application a perfect fit. This is possible on today’s HD Radio broadcasts and receivers that support a graphical display. HD Multiplex, however, will deliver the added data capacity to make this and other data applications a reality. Of course, the corresponding point of sale equipment remains to be developed and deployed.

Radio:�What are the challenges to making this ambitious invention a reality?

Schmid: This is not really a technology challenge. Nautel can deliver broadcast transmitters capable of this technology today and you can listen to our demo on standard HD Radio receivers on our booth. A congested FM band will make it challenging to free up space for HD Multiplex. It may mean that rural areas are the first to benefit from HD Multiplex. Several countries are considering expanding the FM band down to 76 MHz opening up ideal white space for HD Multiplex using receiver chipsets available today. Each HD Multiplex transmitter can be configured according to the bandwidth available to it. If a full 600 kHz is available we can provide 3 dial positions with up to 15 audio services, five or or dial positions can be offered in 1.2 MHz for 25 to 30 audio services. Two dial positions can be squeezed in as little as 200 kHz of occupied bandwidth. No matter the circumstance, we will find a way to make HD Multiplex work for you.

Updating todays regulatory rules to allow HD Multiplex to be deployed while ensuring sufficient interference protection to existing FM broadcasters is a challenge. HD Multiplex is very flexible by adjusting individual sideband power levels such as to ensure out of city stations, be they FM, FM+HD or HD Multiplex, are protected from interference. The protection rules are fairly well understood today and must simply be formalized. In the interim, transmission on an experimental basis is an option. A practical challenge is also presented in how will a consumer discover all this available content?� We believe scanning for radio stations is a thing of the past and will be impractical with potentially hundreds of audio services. The industry must join together to formalize an electronic program guide that makes it easy for the listener to find and customize content including data services. In the short term, content discovery will largely be driven by existing broadcasters promoting their complementary services on air, which in turn will drive demand for HD Radio receivers accelerating the digital conversion. Nautel is confident that HD Multiplex will be adopted�the technology just makes sense and provides a migration path to all digital broadcasting leveraging the existing receiver base.