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Verdict for Digital Radio in Brazil?

Both DRM and HD Radio are under consideration

Digital Radio Mondiale supporters hope Brazil selects a digital radio technology by the end of the year. However, judging by conflicting press reports from that country, it’s not clear if that’s really the likely timeframe.

Both DRM and HD Radio are under consideration. Brazil is South America’s largest country in both population (about 200 million) and land mass. The country represents a huge receiver market.

DRM representatives demonstrated the technology to broadcasters, manufacturers and other radio experts in Sao Paulo in October, and have formed a chapter of the DRM Consortium. “The DRM community are confident that the Brazilian government is analyzing all the options thoroughly in order to come to the best choice for this country and its people, as well as the continent,” stated DRM Consortium Chair Ruxandra Obreja.

DRM originally was developed to help transmitting bands under 30 MHz, which are challenged by environmental noise, fading, narrow channel bandwidth and skywave interference from distant stations. The system, now called DRM30, operates on short-, medium- and long wave.

The DRM standard for broadcast frequencies above 30 MHz, called DRM+, uses the same audio coding, data services, multiplexing and signaling schemes as DRM30 but introduces an additional transmission mode optimized for those bands.

In Brazil, the DRM system has been tested in major cities like Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Duque de Caxias, according to the DRM Consortium.

HD Radio, too, has been tested in Brazil. In 2008, HD Radio AM and FM were tested in four cities: Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Ribeirao Preto and Cordeiropolis.

This summer, the Ministry of Communications conducted new HD Radio AM and FM tests in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte and the capital city Brasilia, iBiquity Digital tells me.

According to population estimates in the CIA World Factbook, Sao Paulo is the largest metro at nearly 20 million people, followed by Rio de Janeiro with 11.8 million. That website estimates Belo Horizonte at 5.7 million, Porto Alegre at 4 million and Brasilia with 3.7 million.

A technical report summarizing the results of the DRM and HD Radio tests was expected to be released soon, according to iBiquity Digital and the DRM Consortium.

The Brazilian government also is forming a digital radio consulting council, which will study the systems and make a recommendation to the Minister of Communications. They were supposed to have their first meeting this month, but all members had not been named as of early October, according to published accounts.

Brazil must pick a digital radio standard yet this year, with the actual transition to take several years, according to a recent news account that quotes Minister of Communications Paulo Bernado.

However another account reports that Bernado told the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Stations he wants to avoid a hasty decision and the decision will have to wait until next year. That’s because Brazil needs to decide whether it wants to migrate AM stations to the FM band by moving those AMs to TV Channels 5 and 6, which will be vacated as Brazilian TV broadcasters transition to digital. The government must decide this issue before settling on a digital radio standard.

Regulators also want digital radio receivers to be manufactured in Brazil, according to various local press accounts.

I imagine that as Mexico has allowed stations to transition to HD Radio on a voluntary basis, so too, would Brazil, recognizing that not every station will have the money or the desire to go digital. Receiver module and chip manufacturers, of course, would like a common platform in South and North America.

Whichever standard Brazil chooses, the choice is going to have ramifications for broadcasters, technology developers and equipment manufacturers given the size of the country’s population, fifth in the world.

I see Brazil possibly adopting dual standards, DRM for digital AM and HD Radio for FM, spurring both transmitter and receiver sales. For DRM especially, that would be the first of what I would call consumer-grade receivers for DRM to be readily available.

With HD, Brazilian broadcasters would get a system that’s much farther along than it was when “IBOC” was introduced in the U.S.