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Digital Radio Spreads to India

DRM benefits the subcontinent

Alexander Zink, Senior Business Development Manager Digital Radio Audio & Multimedia Division, Fraunhofer IIS

MUNICH — India is a country of superlatives. It is — by area — the seventh-largest country in the world and with over 1.2 billion people the second-most populous.

The Indian economy is the world’s third largest by purchasing power parity and one of the fastest-growing major economies. There are more than a hundred native languages in India, with Standard Hindi and English as official languages. These conditions, and others, make it a challenge for every radio broadcaster attempting to reach as many people as possible.

One solution to these challenges is in Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM). It is the universal, open standard digital broadcasting system for all broadcast frequencies below and above 30 MHz, including LW, MW, SW, band I, II (FM band) and band III. DRM provides digital sound quality and ease-of-use that comes from digital radio, combined with a number of enhanced features: surround sound, Journaline text information, slideshow, emergency warning, EPG and other data services.

DRM reaches large coverage areas with considerably less transmission power than analog radio. This makes DRM an ideal solution for countries like India that have huge networks of medium-wave and shortwave (AM) services and large geographical boundaries that could never be serviced by radio standards primarily designed for local or regional coverage, such as DAB or the United States’ HD Radio system.

India’s public broadcaster All India Radio has committed to DRM and started a US$300 million investment program to switch from analog to digital radio broadcast. This investment and AIR’s intention to add more attractive services on a national level, made possible by the digital transmission capacity of DRM, marks a revolution for India’s radio offerings.

Jens Schroeder, Managing Director for RFmondial AIR’s DRM transmissions are reported to cover 70 percent of population after the first rollout phase in near-FM quality, compared to local FM services that reach just under half of India’s population and focuses on big cities. There is a large, unmet demand for radio that needs to be satisfied, considering that radio is the top information and entertainment source for most Indians today. As stated on AIR’s website, the year 2017 is the target for a complete switchover to digital radio.

Among the first companies to provide equipment for India’s digital radio rollout is RFmondial, a manufacturer of DRM transmission and receiver equipment. The RFmondial RF-SE professional monitoring receiver for DRM and AM transmissions allows the operator not only to verify that the electrical and logical characteristics of the transmission are valid, but also confirms — through the integration of Fraunhofer’s DRM MultimediaPlayer technology — that the digital audio and multimedia content and overall service signaling is as expected.

This is especially valuable in the event of a natural catastrophe when the DRM emergency warning feature is activated to pre-alert and inform the population of an imminent disaster. In this case the RF-SE allows live monitoring of automatic emergency service switchover, announcement activation and Journaline multilingual detailed text information. In a country that is prone to flooding during monsoon months, emergency warnings that reach the widest possible population are a vital component to potentially help save thousands of lives.

The features of the DRM MultimediaPlayer component enable the site operator to exploit the full potential of digital radio directly on-site at the monitoring receiver as well as remotely from his office through a standard Web browser, deploying the latest HTML5 technology.

The Fraunhofer MultimediaPlayer decoding advanced digital radio service Journaline is integrated in the graphical user interface of the RFmondial DRM Monitoring Receiver RF-SE. Along with decoding and remote streaming of radio programs in stereo and 5.1 surround sound audio, the Fraunhofer MultimediaPlayer supports all added-value DRM features, including the parallel transmission of text messages, Journaline advanced text with on-demand news, weather forecasts and sports results and album cover images, all of which are displayed directly onto the receiver.

The final step for DRM success in India is the delivery of affordable DRM receivers. Car stereos present a seamless way to saturate a market with DRM receivers, especially with the enormous growth of Tata Motors in India, which recently joined the DRM Consortium through its subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Jaguar Land Rover, and with core components in places such as receiver chipsets presented by DRM Consortium member NXP at the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas.

Add-on receiver modules for mobile phones, followed by integrated DRM radio functionality is another key element currently in the focus of industry discussions and events supported by the DRM Consortium.

Other nations facing similar broadcasting challenges to India should consider the possibilities presented by DRM. For example, Asian, Russian and African broadcasters can use the success of AIR’s DRM efforts to build support for advanced communication and emergency alert networks at home. The merits of DRM are clear, and the ease of implementation is consistently increased. With a clear vision, strong success stories and underserved populations across, the DRM technology has the potential to change global broadcasting and stimulate economies worldwide.

Alexander Zink is senior business development manager, Digital Radio Audio & Multimedia Division, Fraunhofer IIS.

Jens Schroeder is managing director at RFmondiale.