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Signs of Traction for Global Digital Radio

Although the standards vary, the past year has been, on the whole, a positive one for digital radio in several nations

In many nations, 2010 is looking like the year where digital radio finally is gaining some traction.

While HD Radio was getting a boost (literally) from regulators in the United States, Digital Radio Mondiale’s DRM30 system has gained significant support in Russian and India, and the Eureka-147 family of DAB standards is seeing good growth in Australia, as well as continued acceptance in Europe and new projects in Asia.

Multimedia Object Transfer slideshow on DAB is being used by Korean radio station SBS to provide listeners weather and traffic information. The MOT protocol is part of the DAB standard. Photo by Martyn Green

This is not to say that any digital radio system is in danger of completely replacing traditional analog broadcasting in the near future, but some broadcasters and regulators are reaching the point where talk of planning for a digital switchover is reasonable.

The United Kingdom has the best established digital radio market in the world. According to first-quarter 2010 figures released in May by the audience research consortium RAJAR, nearly a quarter of all U.K. radio listening is through a digital platform, which includes via DTV platforms and the Internet, although the bulk of the listening (15.1 percent) is via a DAB digital radio receiver. The same report found that 17.7 million people, about a third of the U.K. population, report living in a household with a DAB receiver.

Although the figures are good and show reasonable year-over-year growth, there have been some stumbles for U.K. DAB this year.

The BBC moved to shutter the national DAB-only Asian Network and 6 Music networks earlier this year as part of a cost-saving endeavor, but public outcry led the BBC Trust, which oversees the operations of the British public-service broadcaster, to grant a reprieve for 6 Music. On the private broadcasting side, Absolute Radio has aggressively positioned itself as a multiplatform broadcaster, which includes full investment in digital radio. It has launched several DAB and Internet channels, including Absolute 80s, Absolute 90s and Dabbl, a station that listeners program via online votes. Bauer Media, on the other hand, decided to pull its Q Radio channel off DAB in favor of Internet streaming and distribution via the Freeview DTV platform.

In neighboring Ireland, the public-service broadcaster RTÉ is operating a DAB network that expects to cover about half of the Irish population by year-end. Research firm GfK reported in February that about 14 percent of all radio receivers sold in Ireland during 2009 included DAB support.

Numérique terrestre
France announced at the end of 2007 an aggressive push to adopt DMB-A (for audio), a digital radio system built off the Eurkea-147 T-DMB multimedia broadcasting standard. Despite a tender for licenses in early 2008, the choice of a variant standard has lead to some pushback and delays. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Culture reaffirmed the choice of DMB-A and called for the system to begin deployment by year-end 2010.

While French broadcasters in general agree with the need for swift deployment of what the French call “la radio numérique terrestre,” there remains support for the adoption of DAB+ alongside DMB-A.

Jamil Shalak, president of the digital radio industry group Radio Numérique DR France, and Emmanuel Boutterin, president of SNRL, which represents the interests of local radio stations across France, sent an open letter to Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand calling for swift action in getting digital radio off the ground in the initial large markets of Paris, Marseille and Nice, as well as adding DAB+ to the mix of options for broadcasters.

DAB stalled last year in Germany when the KEF, which is responsible for approving the budgets of public broadcasters across the country, issued an opinion that it could not support funding a digital radio rollout as information about the scope and costs of implementing the technology could not be determined.

However, in June, that decision was reversed in the face of widespread support for the technology from public broadcasters, private broadcasters and transmission services providers. The new KEF decision allows broadcasters to begin negotiating with transmission services provider Media Broadcast for use of its growing network of DAB/DAB+/T-DMB multiplexes. Under the terms of its licenses, Media Broadcast must roll out at least 35 transmission sites by September 2011 with a final minimum of 110 sites by year-end 2015. By 2021, Media Broadcast projects to have 172 DAB/DAB+/T-DMB transmitters in place across Germany.

DAB+ is also gaining ground in Switzerland, where four DAB/DAB+ multiplexes are operated by public-service broadcaster SRG SSR idée suisse, and a private DAB+ multiplex was launched by SwissMediaCast last October, and in Malta, where a March 2010 audience assessment report by the Awtorità tax-Xandir found that 12.2 percent of radio listening is via DAB, up about 2 percent since the end of 2009.

Asia Media Plans L-Band T-DMB Network
Malaysian Transit-TV operator Asia Media Sdn Bhd was allocated three L-band blocks for the deployment of a dozen T-DMB program channels, including digital television, radio and data channels, by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

T-DMB is part of the Eureka-147 DAB family of standards for digital radio and multimedia broadcasting.

Asia Media has deployed L-band-based digital multimedia services to all city transit busses in the Klang Valley, the metropolitan region including the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. The new T-DMB services will be in addition to this existing Transit-TV network.

“We would like to work closely with digital TV receiver manufacturers to integrate the L-band T-DMB receivers into the car navigation systems, mobile phones, portable media players, notebook computers, as well as our transit-TV network in city and express busses,” said Asia Media CEO Ricky Wong.

“This is an ideal technology innovation in transmitting live contents onto moving vehicles, especially busses, trains and other public transportation vehicles … operating within city center.” At the end of 2009, Italy approved regulations allowing for the commercial launch of DAB+ following an industry-wide consultation period. Concurrently, the Holy See has launched DAB services from its Vatican Radio transmission site near Rome.

In the Nordic region, transmission services provider Teracom has been coordinating an industry-wide DAB+ trial in the Stockholm, Sweden, area. In August, a new radio and television law goes into effect, providing regulations for the licensing of commercial digital radio services.

In June, four more stations joined the digital radio network in Norway. Eighteen stations are now of the national DAB network there, which reaches about 80 percent of the country’s population.

In Denmark, DAB is also well established with about 90 percent of the population within the coverage area of a DAB multiplex; a consumer survey in 2009 found that about 34 percent of Danish households have at least one DAB receiver.

Although digital radio remains a curiosity in most of Eastern Europe, Poland and Hungary are both pushing ahead with DAB+ trials with an eye toward enacting regular services in 2010 or 2011.

In April, Russia finalized legislation ordering the country’s regulators to determine a framework for rolling out DRM30 services. The Digital Radio Mondiale system for digital broadcasting on the short-, medium- and long-wave bands is considered a good fit for the vast country. An additional digital radio system, RAVIS (Realtime AudioVisual Information System), is being considered for testing this year.

South Korea is where the T-DMB variant of Eureka-147 was developed, and the technology is being integrated with a range of devices, including handheld devices, navigation systems and mobile telephones. In addition to video and data services, the devices can receive digital radio signals from and several radio broadcasters supplement their radio services with Visual Radio services using DAB’s MOT Slideshow technique.

In the second most populous nation in the world, India, All India Radio has opened a global tender notice for the procurement of DRM30 digital transmitters to achieve its goal of nationwide digital radio broadcasting.

The public-service broadcaster is looking for 34 new medium-wave and five new shortwave transmitters, along with associated equipment. It is also looking to upgrade 36 existing medium-wave to DRM30 operation. Bids will be opened in August and September.

T. Carter Ross is editor in chief of the international edition of Radio World. James Careless, Martyn Green and Emmanuelle Pautler contributed to this roundup.


Brazil Forms Body to Choose Standard

BRASÍLIA, Brazil Brazil has established a new body, Sistema Brasileiro de Rádio Digital, and charged it with determining the best digital radio technology for the country.

Both the U.S. iBiquity HD Radio and the European Digital Radio Mondiale systems are being tested in Brazil. In the initial tests, the DRM30 system proved the more favorable for AM transmissions in the medium-wave and tropical bands.

The SBRD will consider both systems, as well as their FM versions, as well as recommend adaptations suggested by local researchers from Brazilian universities involved in the trials.

The Ministry of Communications ordered the SBRD to recommend a solution for both AM and FM services that allows simulcasting, low-power transmissions and one that makes efficient use of the radio spectrum.

The SBRD was also told to look for a system that provides opportunities for technology growth within the Brazilian economy, such as for transmitter and receiver manufacturers, in addition to promoting other social and political goals for the betterment of Brazil.

A decision by SBRD is not expected before early 2011.
— Carlos Eduardo Behrensdorf