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HD Radio and Digital FM in India

How HD Radio testing can bring India closer to its digital future

The author of this commentary is senior vice president, digital platforms for Xperi Corp.

As part of India’s Digital India initiative, which has a vision of providing increased digital access to its population, Xperi and All India Radio have been collaborating on testing HD Radio FM broadcast in Delhi, India.

In February, 2021, Phase 1 of the test project was completed and submitted to the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) for evaluation. In addition, updates on the commercial operation of HD Radio in North America, including receivers in the market, broadcast service quality and overall operational progress, were shared.

The program has significant implications for considerably advancing consumer access to FM radio broadcasts, in multiple languages, across India.

The test program was designed to demonstrate HD Radio services in Delhi on 100.5 MHz transmitting from the Akashvani Bhawan site at All India Radio’s main offices. With support from ComCon and Nautel, Xperi engineers installed a VS2.5 transmitter and broadcast 1.2kW total power (120W digital).

The program demonstrated reception on eight different radio models including car radio, portable and home models, as well as the BeatBoy feature cell phone with built-in HD Radio function.

HD Radio Xperi demo in India
AudioVox Tabletop HD Radio shown during testing in Delhi

India’s Radio Market

While AM broadcasting has been operating in India since the 1930s by All India Radio, the government broadcaster, FM broadcasting is a relatively new service.

The first India FM broadcast was in 1977 and expanded exponentially in 2001 when the Indian government allowed private broadcasters to operate stations. Since then, the government has issued a series of frequency auctions which broadly expanded markets and licensed frequencies around the country. As of 2018, there are 390 licensed private stations and 400 government-operated stations.

HD Radio Xperi demo in India on phone
BeatBoy feature cellphone with built-in HD Radio

Xperi research demonstrates that FM radio and music content is very popular in India, with over 80% of the population listening to FM radio on a regular basis. And because India is a very mobile society, most of the listening is through the FM Radio function in cell phones.

This market is growing. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has an objective to move the FM band to digital radio operations. And the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) continues to support new frequency auctions and licenses.

The recommendations from TRAI in February 2020 advised the government to establish a policy framework and roadmap for digital radio in India. These directives are aligned with the “Digital India” initiatives driven through the Office of the Prime Minister.

Digital Radio Opportunity

Implementation of digital radio broadcasting fulfills Digital India’s initiatives vision for radio; HD Radio services will be key to establishing this much-needed, digital, world-class broadcast network to serve all the citizens of India.

While most other technologies are transitioning, or already fully transitioned, to digital services, digital radio in India has lagged behind. In India, radio has a long history of providing critical public services and important information, in multiple languages to the population. Unfortunately, not everyone has ready access to internet and data services, especially in rural regions.

But because HD Radio can easily and inexpensively be integrated into mobile handsets for ease of use, it can digitally provide real-time emergency and disaster notifications through cell phones across India’s multilingual population, as well as enabling access to national, regional, and local information and entertainment programs.

Xperi’s HD Radio broadcast and consumer products include comprehensive levels of testing and certification to ensure consistent quality of service for the industry, which will be of major importance to a roll out in India. In addition, Xperi is investing in monitoring networks to ensure HD Radio transmission quality once a broadcaster has launched HD Radio.

Next Steps

The HD Radio team will continue working to support technical evaluations and policy discussions with MIB and All India Radio.

Aside from addressing the technical questions, the important focus is the availability of affordable receivers. Existing product designs can easily meet the cost expectations for the market, and it is believed that further optimization of design and production process can quickly achieve mass market scale.