NRSC Looks to November for Next IBOC Step

The standards-setting body made up of broadcasters and manufacturers, the National Radio Systems Committee, has set a tentative date of Nov. 29 for its DAB evaluation working group to report to the DAB Subcommittee its review of FM test results submitted by Ibiquity Digital Corp.
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The standards-setting body made up of broadcasters and manufacturers, the National Radio Systems Committee, has set a tentative date of Nov. 29 for its DAB evaluation working group to report to the DAB Subcommittee its review of FM test results submitted by Ibiquity Digital Corp.

The decision was made at a meeting of the DAB Subcommittee at the NAB Radio Show in New Orleans.

The working group, led by the International Broadcasting Bureau’s Dr. Don Messer, has begun reviewing 600 pages of FM test results that were submitted recently by Ibiquity (Radio World, Sept. 12).

In its report, the working group will focus on whether IBOC performs significantly better than analog and whether IBOC has an acceptable impact to host analog stations and adjacents.

If the report is favorable as determined by members of the evaluation working group and the larger DAB Subcommittee, the latter group likely would develop an FM IBOC standard, through a formal process developed by NRSC members.

How long the standards-setting process could take is uncertain. DAB Subcommittee Chairman Milford Smith said the group would do its work quickly.

Once the subcommittee adopts the report, it becomes public. This means the FCC, and anyone else, can see it. How that would happen has not yet been made clear.

This process takes place independently of the FCC, though commission employees observe the NRSC process and attend meetings. Several sources said the commission would prefer that industry, rather than regulators, do the "heavy lifting" in evaluating the technology.

In its DAB Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FCC said it had confidence in the ability of the NRSC to evaluate IBOC.

The commission must determine how to incorporate IBOC into its pending rule making on DAB and what broadcasters would need to do to comply with new rules. The agency has latitude in how much it changes the rules to accommodate IBOC. Its options range from changing the allowed digital carrier power levels to re-licensing all U.S. radio stations. Sources said the commission would not prefer the latter.

"The Ibiquity product has tremendous potential," said Keith Larson, FCC associate bureau chief for engineering in the Mass Media Bureau. Two questions still to be answered, he said, are "What is meaningful interference?" and "What is the effect (of the system) on first adjacent channels?"

New concept

At the meeting of the full NRSC in New Orleans, members also heard a presentation from three individuals who have formed a company called JackHammer Digital (RW, Sept. 12, page 5).

The company believes it has a concept that could work in conjunction with stations using FM analog or IBOC. JackHammer’s theory is to use broadband technology to allow four digital stations to operate within spectrum now allocated for one FM station. The system is digital, but more like an in-band, adjacent-channel (IBAC) system similar to one considered by the NRSC in the mid-1990s.

JackHammer believes its system would be compatible with IBOC and that it could co-exist with future generations of IBOC receivers.

The company said that, using its system, the FM band could support 412 digital CD-quality channels at 240 kbps.

Sources said the higher data rate is more susceptible to interference than, for example, the FM IBOC data rate at 96 kbps.

JackHammer has been privately funded so far. It needs about $500,000 to complete a prototype system and approximately $5 million to take the concept to reality. JackHammer is looking for product development alliances among manufacturers that participate in the NRSC.

The NRSC told JackHammer to keep it apprised of its progress.

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