Friday 4 April 2014

India Expands FM Radio & Goes For a DRM Structure

DRM+ will be included in the receiver eco-system
The experts group of the Indian public service consulting report has recommended that the public service All India Radio make a transition to DRM medium wave from analog medium wave to meet the National and Regional coverage. Expansion of FM to increase regional coverage from 43 to 65 % should only be carried out on the basis of commercial feasibility. The receiver eco-system for DRM30 and DRM+ is under-developed and therefore to foster investment in a DRM receiver market, which will include Pakistan and Bangladesh.

For AIR, the Group on Technology recommends a continunation of shortwave (SW) to meet international coverage. In the current landscape, FM is the most popular audio transmission system as it has both private and public participation. However, FM reaches to only 43 % of the population and 31 % of the national area. MW and SW together reach to 99 % of the population but fail to provide stereo quality output to the listener as provided by FM.  AIR is also reaching 100 % of the country by broadcasting 21 radio channels via satellite.

AIR currently reaches to 43 % of the Indian population through regional FM. Given that FM provides significantly better quality than MW, AIR can consider transmitting through FM for national coverage. Apart from the quality, the growing popularity of FM in India, because of widespread use of FM following the integration of FM in the mobile phones, presents a case for transitioning to FM for complete AM coverage given that mobile phone is the most popular device for assessing radio. It gives FM a distinct advantage over MW transmission as mobile handsets are expected to drive the content demand. In metropolitan areas radio listening on mobile phones is significally high for example in Mumbai 94 % and in New Delhi 88 %.

However, the Group on Technology recommends that AIR should transition to DRM30 from AM MW to meet requirements of national/ regional coverage and can continue to reach out to the local audiences through FM. DRM30 has been proven to be particularly good for rural coverage and listeners on the move, providing digital quality on efficient AM transmissions.  

Given the popularity of the FM, AIR should continue to increase the coverage of FM from 43 % to 65 %. Once the DRM eco-system is stabilized, AIR can consider migration of FM to DRM+. However, the receiver eco-system for DRM is under-developed and therefore to foster investment in receiver eco-system, AIR should promote private participation by sharing the DRM infrastructure with Private Operators.

Among future planned investments are digitalization of 72 MW transmitters, five SW transmitters, expansion/replacement of 329 FM transmitters.

According to Yogendra Pal, Advisor at the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, the transition to DRM30 on MW will reach 70 % of the population by 2016. The second batch of receivers on the Indian market will have both DRM30 and DRM+ capability. Pakistan and Bangadesh, which also are on the DRM track, have expressed interest to take part of ths receiver market.

Of special interest of this new receiver generation is the inclusion of the new xHE-AAC codec recently standardised for DRM which will deliver much higher sound quality and enhanced efficiency at low bit rates.  

AIR is one of the largest broadcasting organisations in the world in terms of the number of languages of broadcast, the spectrum of socio-economic and cultural diversity it serves. AIR home service compries 376 stations covering 92 % national area and 99,19 % of population. AIR originates programming in 23 languages and 146 dialects.

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