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Brazil Could Pick Digital Standard in 2010

'Radio can no longer remain analog in a digital world'

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — Although tests and consultations are ongoing, Brazilian regulators are positioning to decided upon a digital radio standard for the country within a year.

With a target date for full roll-out of an in-band, on-channel approach to digital radio by 2016, Brazil is expected to make a standards announcement by the end of this year or in early 2011. While iBiquity Digital’s HD Radio system has been used on a trial basis by several commercial broadcasters since 2005, there also is interest in Digital Radio Mondiale’s DRM30 and DRM+ technologies.

Experts say one or a combination of standards could be adopted.

In April, iBiquity’s John Schneider hosted a tour of CBS Radio facilities in Las Vegas for broadcasters from Brazil and the Dominican Republic to show a commercial implementation of HD Radio. CBS Market Chief Engineer Tracy Teagarden showed studios and the AM site, where this photo was taken. From left: Sergio Parisi; Fernando Luiz Parizotto; Tracy Teagarden; Sandra Pons de Brugal, president of ADORA, the Dominican Republic radio broadcasters’ association; Gilberto Kussler; Ronald Barbosa; Rosa Olga Medrano; José Fidalgo; Frank Brugal; John Schneider; André Bouças; Marco Tulio Nascimento. The plan to name a digital radio standard was announced a year ago at the close of the 25th Congress of the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters, or ABERT, held in Brasília. The next congress will be held in 2011.

Anticipation continued after the minister of communications, Hélio Costa, opened a 180-day public consultation period in February to discuss which standard Brazil will adopt.

Brazil is an important receiver market in this hemisphere. It’s the second-largest radio country in the world in terms of station count, behind the United States. Brazil has more than 3,000 commercial stations and about an equal number of low-power community radio stations, according to iBiquity. Like in the United States, Brazilian commercial stations are licensed on a local basis, but they are allowed to federate and to share programming and advertising.

Daniel Pimentel Slaviero, ABERT president Also, it is the fifth-largest country in terms of both land mass and population, with nearly 193 million people, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. More important than its population size is that Brazil is the largest national economy in Latin America, the second-largest in the Americas (behind the United States) and the ninth-largest in terms of gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity, according to the International Monetary Fund.

There is a sense of pressure in Brazil to move on a digital decision. At the close of the biennial ABERT meeting last year, Daniel Pimentel Slaviero, the association’s president, declared, “Radio can no longer remain analog in a digital world.” ABERT, like NAB in the United States, represents the interests of commercial broadcasters.

He said some new/upgraded transmission equipment would be needed if any digital standard is adopted, but there would be “no change to frequency allocations.” Regulators have supported an in-band digital radio solution for Brazil, apparently ruling out a solution like Eureka-147 DAB or DAB+.

“The frequencies will be the same, and the digital signal can coexist with analog, so we aren’t dealing with the same migration period as television,” Salviero said. Brazilian television is in the midst of transitioning to digital using the ISDB-Tb standard; that migration period is set to end in 2016.

ABERT Technical Advisor Ronald Barbosa said the simplest HD or DRM receiving devices currently cost the equivalent of about $56, which would decrease as more receivers are sold.

Whether HD or DRM, “The cost for radio businesses to adopt the digital standard is at least 12 times cheaper than for TV broadcasters. On average, it will be between roughly $85,000 and $170,000, vs. $1.1 million to $2.8 million for television broadcasters,” Barbosa said. “The investment doesn’t eliminate the capability to transmit an analog signal.”

Ronald Barbosa, ABERT technical advisor The IBOC approach, familiar to U.S. readers, assumes an indefinite period of “hybrid” operation that allows broadcasters to continue to air analog signals while adding digital services on their existing frequencies. Presumably at some later time, the analog could be switched off and the entire licensed channel used for digital services.

The possibility exists that the country will adopt different standards for AM, FM and shortwave.

While AM and tropical-band shortwave remain important in large swaths of Brazil, DRM may be better positioned than iBiquity’s HD Radio AM for these wavebands, according to anecdotal comments on Brazilian digital radio message boards, blogs and press accounts. Yet HD Radio has more receivers on the market than does DRM. If regulators opt for DRM on AM and for HD Radio on FM, there is a concern that the rollout could be delayed by the manufacturing time necessary to produce dual-standard receivers, according to these accounts. IBiquity publicly has supported the use of DRM30 for shortwave services in Brazil. It also supports the concept of multi-system tuners capable of receiving both HD Radio on AM/FM and DRM on shortwave.

Brazil has a strong electronics manufacturing sector, so whichever standard or mix of standards is decided upon, acceptable receivers are expected to be able to be produced domestically.

Standards under discussion

Selection of HD Radio would be a big win for U.S.-based iBiquity. It is the official digital radio technology in the United States, Panama and the Philippines; we’ve reported that Mexico is likely to adopt the technology, and iBiquity says the Dominican Republic also is close to adopting a standard. Brazil potentially could be the sixth country to adopt HD Radio as its official digital radio technology.

It would be a significant expansion of the company’s presence in the Western Hemisphere. Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Jamaica broadcasters are trialing HD Radio, as are several countries in Europe and Asia, according to iBiquity.

“Brazil also tends to set the technology standard for the rest of South America,” iBiquity Director of Business Development for Latin America John Schneider told Radio World recently.

“As an example, its chosen digital TV technology [ISDB-Tb] is being adopted by many of its neighboring countries, so we feel the process could repeat itself for digital radio.”

HD Radio is used experimentally by about 30 Brazilian broadcasters, both AM and FM.

The new ABERT broadcast association headquarters in Brasília, inaugurated in 2009. “The Brazilian government has stated that no new spectrum will be made available for digital radio, and that the country must adopt an IBOC standard,” said Schneider.

“Brazilian radio uses exactly the same AM and FM technical standards as the United States, and so our technology is a good spectral fit for their country for the same reasons as in the U.S. With an installed user base of about 30 broadcasters, the country has already invested several millions of dollars in our technology, so they have a good start on commercial implementation,” said Schneider.

“Also, we offer them a mature receiver technology that would allow economical receivers to quickly get into the hands of Brazilian listeners.”

HD Radio was developed by iBiquity, whose investors include broadcasters like CBS, Clear Channel, Entercom and Radio One, as well as financial institutions such as J.P. Morgan Partners, New Venture Partners and FirstMark Capital, and strategic partners Ford Motor Co., Harris, Texas Instruments and Visteon.

It isn’t a secret that ABERT favors the HD Radio standard, but it doesn’t align itself with any product or business. In 2007, the association judged iBiquity favorably because it was the only entity that offered an FM IBOC technology.

At that time, ABERT contracted with Mackenzie Presbyterian University to create a methodology for testing HD Radio in cooperation with those broadcasters authorized to try it. The resulting methodology and tests were based on guidelines issued by Anatel, the National Telecommunications Agency.

Trials and studies were carried out over nine months by five mostly commercial broadcasters: an AM and FM station in São Paulo, an AM station in Belo Horizonte, an FM station in Riberão Preto and a community radio station in Cordeirópolis. The conclusions of the HD Radio tests were delivered to the Ministry of Communications at the end of 2008. They served as input from the radio broadcasting industry to help the government define the standard best suited for Brazil.

Other groups that participated in the study were the Brazilian Association of Radio Broadcasters (ABRA) and state-level associations of radio and television broadcasters.

New round of tests

Demystifying Digital
ABERT Technical Advisor Ronald Barbosa addressed several common concerns Brazilian broadcasters have expressed about digitizing radio:

Little experience: “Considering the known standards and their installations, more than 4,000 stations use one of the existing standards.”

Standards could be developed in any country and adopted later: “There is an organization within the United Nations, the International Telecommunications Union, that recognizes certain standards and systems. Every standard undergoes international discussion.”

All are obliged to transmit digitally by a specific date: “Not necessarily. Broadcasters can choose the best moment to offer the digital signal to their audience.”

It’s best to wait a while: “AM radio suffers the most from the lack of digital definition. Broadcasters in the interior suffer from predatory competition with clandestine FM transmission and other audio outlets that already use digital media.”

Only big broadcasters will benefit: “The greatest concern in selecting a standard is to serve the majority of Brazilian broadcasters. It has to be good for everyone.” Starting in February of this year, the Ministry of Communications coordinated another round of tests for digital radio in Belo Horizante, initiating experimental transmissions using the Digital Radio Mondiale DRM30 and DRM+ standards. The Belo Horizonte DRM trial results will be compared with 2007 HD Radio trials in São Paulo.

According to specialists at the ministry, DRM offers technical robustness and could serve some of the country’s needs, especially the use of DRM30 for AM and tropical-band stations.

DRM30 is used by shortwave broadcasters worldwide, including in this hemisphere. On the national level, Russia and India are committing to using DRM30 on AM and shortwave, and some broadcasters in Germany, China, Spain and France are also using DRM30 on shortwave, longwave and AM under experimental authorizations.

More recently, with the DRM+ standard, the DRM Consortium is able to offer solutions for VHF broadcasting above 30 MHz, meaning that it can offer in-band solutions for Brazil’s AM, FM and tropical-wave broadcasters.

With DRM30, regions like the expansive Amazon River basin, served by Rádio Nacional da Amazônia, will be able to receive nearly clean transmissions, without interference, with technical quality and pure signal, even when programs originate far from the reception area, according to authorities in the communications ministry.

Michel Penneroux, DRM Commercial Committee chair and head of international broadcasting for French transmission-services company TDF, declared at the ABERT Congress in 2009 that the European system is “more interesting for Brazil” considering the size of the country.

The consortium that developed the DRM standards is an international not-for-profit organization composed of broadcasters, network providers, transmitter and receiver manufacturers, universities and others, including the BBC, Deutsche Welle, NHK, Radio Vaticana, Dolby, Sony, Harris, Nautel and Transradio SenderSysteme.

The current DRM trials are coordinated by technical experts from the Ministry of Communications in partnership with representatives from Anatel, the National Institute of Meteorology, Norms and Industrial Quality, the Federal Universities of Minas Gerais, Pará and Rio Grande do Norte, and two German engineers and researchers from the Center for Studies in Telecommunications from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.

Although convinced that the HD Radio is best suited for Brazilian commercial radio, the broadcasters’ association ABERT believes that at this time — when the Ministry of Communications is in the midst of a public consultation and trials of the DRM standards are under way — it is necessary to await the final results to decide which model to adopt in Brazil.

According to technical experts at the Ministry of Communications, the introduction of digital radio in Brazil, no matter which standard is chosen, will improve sound quality, radically improving the listener experience.

Carlos Eduardo Behrensdorf writes about the radio industry in Brasília, Brazil. T. Carter Ross and Leslie Stimson contributed to this piece.