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News from the Digital Radio World – Part 2

Last week we reported about current developments in digital radio in Europe. In today’s article, we will look at the expansion of digital radio in other continents, with focus on India.

At the end of January, India launched the second phase of the largest digital radio rollout worldwide with the broadcast standard of choice being Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) (http://www.drm.org/). DRM offers the same services and functions as DAB+, but as opposed to DAB+, it is not a multiplex with many programs in a broadband emitting signal, but rather the direct digital successor of analogue AM and FM broadcast, with one emitting signal per broadcaster. This way, a coexistence with analogue AM and FM broadcasts in the transition phase is easily made possible, and all scenarios are covered, from local radio services to international and worldwide broadcasts. Just as with DAB and DAB+, Fraunhofer was substantially involved in the development of DRM.

So far, 39 high performance transmitters with DRM signals and up to a megawatt of transmission power are in service in India. Among these are two short wave transmitters for nationwide radio supply and two short wave transmitters for international broadcasts, reaching as far as Europe. The remaining 35 transmitters make up the nationwide medium wave network, which will cater to over 60 percent of the population with a purely digital service. This network is of utmost importance for the country, as most Indians living outside big cities are dependent on radio as a source of information.

Digital radio for everyone

By bringing the 39 DRM transmitters into service, AIR (All India Radio), the public radio broadcaster in India, successfully completed the first phase of the DRM rollout in the country at the end of 2016. The recently initiated phase two is comprised of continuous optimization of transmitting power, setting radio programs which will be available digitally in each region, as well as the activation of the additional service Journaline. This data service enables the parallel broadcast of current news and information in text form in several of the over 100 languages in India. This allows travelers who cannot understand the radio program, as well as the majority of Indians who do not have access to the internet, to stay up to date.

A significant factor for the successful introduction of DRM is the utilization of the audio codec xHE-AAC. It allows the transmission of multiple stereo programs plus data services via one single medium wave transmitter – at a quality which promises „FM for all Indians“, as actual FM broadcasts are restricted to the country’s largest cities.

All of the technologies mentioned, including the DRM standard itself, the xHE-AAC audio codec and the Journaline data service, as well as the upcoming Emergency Warning Functionality (EWF) service – were substantially co-developed by Fraunhofer IIS. The same is true for the implementation of DRM functionality in broadcast encoders, monitoring receivers and car radios, as Fraunhofer’s software modules are integrated in every single DRM device in India.

At the moment, many programs in India are still operating in simulcast mode, so the existing analogue program is kept for now, while additional programs and services are being offered in the DRM part of the transmission signal. Phase three of the DRM rollout will eventually bring the final conversion to a purely digital supply of radio in some years’ time. Apart from expanding the range of programs once more, this will also lead to massive annual cost savings for transmitting power. The major requirement for the start of this third phase will of course be a sufficient dissemination of DRM-enabled devices in India.

DRM rollout starting in Pakistan and Indonesia

While the largest radio digitization project worldwide is underway in India, other countries are working on updating their radio landscape as well. Neighboring Pakistan, for example, announced the successful implementation of their first DRM transmitter at the end of January 2017. As a first step, DRM is used for local and regional supply in the FM band. The next steps will include DRM upgrades for the existing medium and short wave transmitters of the country’s public radio broadcaster, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation PBC / Radio Pakistan.

Indonesia, the country with the world’s fourth largest population, is also on its way to digitizing its radio infrastructure. Indonesia has a very vivid local FM radio landscape and a vast network of short and medium wave transmitters which provide information to the inhabitants of the larger main isles, as well as those living on the thousands of smaller islands. At the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union’s (ABU) annual meeting in October 2016, the public broadcaster Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) announced digitization with DRM. After successful tests in the medium wave band and an earlier test of DAB+ in Jakarta, another DRM test is due to take place soon within the FM band. Once this has been completed successfully, Indonesia shall see the official introduction of digital radio as well.

South Africa: double tracked with DRM and DAB+

Last but not least, let’s take a look at digital radio in South Africa. Following a successful test of DRM in the medium wave spectrum, DRM transmission in the FM band is about to start in Johannesburg, as a corresponding license was issued in the beginning of February. Especially local and community radio stations will be able to benefit from the enhanced possibilities of DRM regarding the generation of revenue and a drastic reduction in transmission costs, in comparison to analogue FM radio. The country is working on a regulation that enables radio digitization with DRM and DAB+ at the same time, allowing each broadcaster to choose the best medium according to their individual requirements. This approach is supported through the technical similarities of the two sister technologies, as well as the availability of suitable multi-standard receiver solutions. Therefore from the listener’s point of view, the underlying transmission system will not matter.

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