TRAI Puts Stress On Digital Radio End Of Days For Analogue Broadcasting

TRAI Puts Stress On Digital Radio

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released its recommendations on “Issues related to Digital Radio Broadcasting in India” As on of the key recommendation, it asked the government to notify the policy framework for digital radio broadcasting in India in time bound manner with clear roadmap for rollout of digital radio broadcasting services.  No date for digital switch over of radio broadcasting services should be declared at this stage.

Existing analogue FM Radio channel should be allowed to remain operational for the remaining period of their Phase-III permissions. The continuance of operation of existing analogue FM Radio channels that do not migrate to digital radio broadcasting, should be reviewed after the expiry of their existing Phase-III permissions. The auction of remaining channels of Phase-III should be done by delinking them from technology. Broadcasters should be permitted to use any technology (analogue or digital or both) for radio broadcasting on the frequency allocated to them through auction in future. For initial three years after declaration of digital radio broadcasting policy, the Government should grant fiscal incentives in the form of lower tax rates to manufacturers of digital radio receivers.

India presently has 322 FM radio station across 86 cities. The authority has said that there is a need to facilitate digital radio broadcasting in India to effectively utilise spectrum in VHF-II band for Radio broadcasting, to provide diverse content and other value-added services to radio listeners. It also said that the government should grant fiscal incentives to manufacturers of digital radio receivers for initial three years after declaration of digital radio broadcasting policy.

Existing analogue FM Radio channels should be allowed to remain operational for the remaining period of their Phase-III permissions. The continuance of operation of existing analogue FM Radio channels that do not migrate to digital radio broadcasting should be reviewed after the expiry of their existing Phase-III permissions, it stated. It also recommended that the auction of remaining channels of Phase-III should be done by delinking them from technology. Broadcasters should be permitted to use any technology for radio broadcasting on the frequency allocated to them through an auction in future.

In case, Radio broadcasters opt for digital technology, they should be permitted to broadcast more than one channel subject to technical feasibility on a single frequency allocated to them. The government should grant fiscal incentives in the form of lower taxes to manufacturers of digital radio receivers for three years after declaring the policy, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) suggested. It also recommended auctioning of 200 kHz bandwidth spectrum in ‘VHF-II’ band in phases for providing digital radio broadcasting services. Presently, radio signals are largely transmitted in analogue mode which is inefficient and suffers from operational restrictions as compared to digital mode, a TRAI statement read. The authority hoped that the recommendations would enable smooth transition from analogue to digital radio broadcasting services.

What is Digital DRM?

Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM; mondiale being Italian and French for “worldwide”) is a set of digital audio broadcasting technologies designed to work over the bands currently used for analogue radio broadcasting including AM broadcasting, particularly shortwave, and FM broadcasting. DRM is more spectrally efficient than AM and FM, allowing more stations, at higher quality, into a given amount of bandwidth, using various MPEG-4 audio coding formats. Digital Radio Mondiale is also the name of the international non-profit consortium that has designed the platform and is now promoting its introduction. Radio France Internationale, TéléDiffusion de France, BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Telefunken (now Transradio) and Thomcast (now Ampegon) took part at the formation of the DRM consortium.

The principle of DRM is that bandwidth is the limited element, and computer processing power is cheap; modern CPU-intensive audio compression techniques enable more efficient use of available bandwidth, at the expense of processing resources. DRM can deliver up to FM-comparable sound quality [citation needed] on frequencies below 30 MHz (long wave, medium wave and short wave), which allow for very-long-distance signal propagation. The modes for these lower frequencies are often collectively known under the term “DRM30”. In the VHF bands, the term “DRM+” is used. DRM+ is able to use available broadcast spectra between 30 and 300 MHz; generally this means band I (47 to 68 MHz), band II (87.5 to 108 MHz) and band III (174 to 230 MHz). DRM has been designed to be able to re-use portions of existing analogue transmitter facilities such as antennas, feeders, and, especially for DRM30, the transmitters themselves, avoiding major new investment. DRM is robust against the fading and interference which often plague conventional broadcasting in these frequency ranges. The encoding and decoding can be performed with digital signal processing, so that a cheap embedded computer with a conventional transmitter and receiver can perform the rather complex encoding and decoding.

As a digital medium, DRM can transmit other data besides the audio channels (data casting) — as well as RDS-type metadata or program-associated data as Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) does. DRM services can be operated in many different network configurations, from a traditional AM one-service one-transmitter model to a multi-service (up to four) multi-transmitter model, either as a single-frequency network (SFN) or multi-frequency network (MFN). Hybrid operation, where the same transmitter delivers both analogue and DRM services simultaneously is also possible.

DRM incorporates technology known as Emergency Warning Features that can override other programming and activates radios which are in standby in order to receive emergency broadcasts. The technical standard is available free-of-charge from the ETSI, and the ITU has approved its use in most of the world. Approval for ITU region 2 is pending amendments to existing international agreements. The inaugural broadcast took place on June 16, 2003, in Geneva, Switzerland, at the ITU’s World Radio Conference.

Current broadcasters include All India Radio, BBC World Service, BitExpress, Radio Exterior de España, Radio New Zealand International, Vatican Radio and Radio Romania International. Until now DRM receivers have typically used a personal computer. A few manufacturers have introduced DRM receivers which have thus far remained niche products due to limited choice of broadcasts. It is expected that the transition of national broadcasters to digital services on DRM, notably All India Radio, will stimulate the production of a new generation of affordable, and efficient receivers.

FM-Band’s “White Space”

“The document shows the benefits and potential of digital radio for all current and future broadcasters in the FM band (VHF band-II). The auction of frequency allotments of 200 kHz bandwidth,​within the existing spectrum configuration, is seen as a good way to enable and promote digital broadcasting,” writes DRM.org. “This approach enhances the overall capacity of the FM band by inserting the new digital radio transmissions in the gaps between existing analogue FM stations, innovatively using spectrum that otherwise would be wasted. With this approach the current analogue transmissions as well as the Phase-III FM roll-out are protected.”

The open ITU-R standard DRM was already adopted and on air nation-wide in India on the AM band. Within the 200 kHz segments in the VHF band II, DRM transmissions can carry up to 6 audio services along with a large number of advanced added-value services such as traffic updates,​and free-to-air multilingual text information based on Journalise. It is hoped that a larger number of additional radio services within the VHF band-II will increase the overall listenership by addressing so far underserved niche audiences. DRM-based services may then fulfil the aspirations of the private FM broadcasters, community radio stations, government, as well as of all the Indian radio listeners.

“We are also encouraged by the recommendation that the government should grant fiscal incentives for the first three years to manufacturers of digital radio receivers, a necessary and welcome step for making digitization a reality,” says DRM.org. “Already today India has developed into an international centre of excellence with regards to DRM receiver technology, from chipsets to radio sets to automotive receivers.”

“Frequency and geographical area coverage planning for digital radio broadcasting using the vacant 600 KHz spectrum in VHF-II (88 -108 MHz) and VHF – III (14-230 MHz) bands should be completed by BECIL, AIR, and WPC together in phased manner.  200 KHz bandwidth spectrum in VHF – II band should be auctioned for providing digital Radio broadcasting services. Auction should be carried out in phases – starting with cities of category ‘A+’ and ‘A’ and subsequently in cities of other categories, “read the release.

It also suggests that immediately after the successful auction of spectrum for digital radio broadcasting, an offer should be made to the existing FM Radio broadcasters to get their existing frequency bandwidth of +- 100 KHz, already allocated through auction in Phase-III of FM Radio, liberalized and provide digital radio broadcasting services in simulcast mode with analogue FM Radio services.

“For liberalizing of existing spectrum, already allocated to the FM radio broadcasters in Phase-III of FM Radio, they will have to pay an amount equal to the difference of auction determined price of equivalent spectrum for digital radio broadcasting in a city and amount paid for allocation of FM radio frequency. In case market determined price of 200 KHz for digital radio broadcasting is less than or equal to the price paid by FM radio broadcasters than FM radio broadcasters will not be require to pay any additional amount and he will be permitted to provide digital radio broadcasting services also for the remaining period of permission,” it reads. The broadcasters should not be allowed to make use of any available digital technology, recognised by ITU, within the allocated/liberalized spectrum for providing digital radio broadcasting services subject to adaptation, if any, recommended by MIB/TRAI from time to time.

It also urged the Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) wing of department of telecom (DoT) to carry out necessary amendments in National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP)-2011 for permitting radio broadcasting including digital radio broadcasting in MW, SW, and VHF-II frequency bands also, which are already identified for and being used for radio broadcasting in India.

It also stated that the frequency and geographical area coverage planning for digital radio broadcasting for vacant 600 KHz spectrum between two allocated FM frequencies in VHF-II band should be completed by BECIL, AIR, and WPC together within three months for category A+ (4 Metro cities), and category A cities (8 cities) in first phase. Frequency and geographical area coverage planning for digital radio broadcasting services using VHF-III (174-230 MHz) band of spectrum should also be carried out by BECIL, AIR, and WPC together in third phase, after this spectrum get vacated.

It also noted that the WPC should notify the channel plan for each type of digital radio broadcasting technology. The authority stated that the auction should be carried out in phases – starting with cities of category ‘A+’ and ‘A’ and subsequently in cities of other categories. After the auction, an offer should be made to the existing FM Radio broadcasters to get their existing frequency bandwidth of +100 KHz, already allocated to them through auction in Phase-III of FM Radio, liberalised and provide digital radio broadcasting services in simulcast mode with analogue FM Radio services once the auction is completed.

“For liberalising of existing spectrum already allocated to the FM radio broadcasters in Phase-III of FM Radio, they will have to pay an amount equal to the difference of auction determined price of equivalent spectrum for digital radio broadcasting in a city and amount paid for allocation of FM radio frequency,” it said. Broadcasters should be allowed to make use of any available digital technology, recognized by ITU, within the allocated/liberalized spectrum for providing digital radio broadcasting services subject to adaptation, if any, recommended by MIB/TRAI from time to time.

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