Yogendra Pal , Chairman , DRM India Chapter
All India Radio (AIR) has adopted the international DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) standard for digital terrestrial radio transmissions in the MW and SW bands. DRM allows for multiple FM-like radio services plus associated data such as multi-lingual news articles to be carried in place of or as an extension to the former analog radio services, while maintaining the large-area service coverage of the AM bands.
35 MW transmitters of AIR, of power ranging from 20 kW to 1000 kW, continue to operate in DRM – 2 of these in pure DRM and 33 in simulcast. Twenty five of these are working in pure DRM daily for one hour. Two SW transmitters are also carrying services on DRM.
Two more transmitters, 100 kW each, are under trial in Delhi and these are expected to be operational in a couple of months. In June (5th and 6th) AIR in Delhi has tested the newly installed 100 kW SW transmitter in DRM. The schedule was: 0400-0630 UTC (0930-1200 IST) on 9950 kHz beamed to South India (Pure DRM, Channel A – Urdu Service, Channel B FM Rainbow).
In a recent tweet AIR welcomed the fact that organization has begun to appear in the media with good news about the reduction in the receiver cost apart from the portrayal of the astounding features of the technology.
One of the welcome features of the current roll-out of DRM in India has been the early and overwhelming commitment of the car industry, which is already equipping new car models with default DRM radio sets at no extra cost. Keeping pace with the digital radio developments, the car receiver industry in India has invested lakhs of rupees in the domestic development of DRM digital radio capable receivers and chipsets. It is pleasing to see that the roll-out of DRM equipped cars is growing rapidly with each month.
By the end of 2017, this number was estimated to be about 500,000 (5 lakh) cars, while as of the beginning of May 2018 the volume has already surpassed 800,000 (8 lakh).
Hyundai has built-in DRM radios in all its models except one. They launched two models in May 2018 with a built-in DRM receiver. One is called Creta and the other popular brand is i20 Active.
Maruti Suzuki has also incorporated DRM receivers in six models (three of them are shown in the picture) and all their models are expected to have built-in DRM receivers by the end of December 2018.
Mahindra has also installed DRM in its TUV model.
Most of the leading car manufacturers in India have either already incorporated DRM receivers in their cars or are in the process of incorporating them. The increase has been spectacular in comparison with similar digital radio rollouts in other established markets in the world. Indian listeners have already benefitted from the domestic car industry’s joint effort to provide the in-car DRM functionality as a line-fit option for new models without charging the consumers any extra cost. In comparison, other digital radio markets around the world have taken decades to reach this level of commitment by the automotive industry, which for the most part expect car buyers to pay extra if they want to enjoy digital radio.
Radio consumption in India is driven by listening in cars, which explains the paramount importance of the early-on commitment of the Indian automotive industry to DRM for the ongoing success of India’s digital roll-out program.
Standalone DRM radio receivers
In the domain of standalone DRM radio receivers for consumers there has been an increased activity especially in the past 12 months.
Communications Systems Inc. is the first radio manufacturer in India to domestically develop and produce a DRM receiver (AV-1401), an ambitious full-featured digital radio. It offers a color screen display, stereo speakers, built-in chargeable battery with 10-hour capacity on full charge, external power source connection, detachable remote control, recording and playback from an external source, and a full-fledged media player for all types of digital content. In terms of digital radio reception, it supports all the DRM-specific features including Journaline advanced text and Emergency Warning Functionality (EWF). As part of the company’s continued commitment to DRM in India, the model was recently updated and easily meets DRM’s minimum receiver requirements as recommended by the DRM Consortium. Enhancements through the newly improved model include superior sensitivity, enhanced support for EWF with provision to switch on the receiver automatically on EWF alarms, even from deep-standby, and a bigger and improved LCD screen. The upgraded unit can receive AIR DRM signals of both the transmitters in Delhi in very good quality even inside buildings. The company is in the process of supplying AIR and has received orders for export to Australia, too.
Several additional Indian companies are also in the process of designing/developing DRM receivers.
Inntot Technologies, a young start-up enterprise in India, which has already won the CII Industrial Innovation Award 2017 and several other awards, has developed a software-based DRM receiver, which is based on a generic processor. It also meets all the specifications for the minimum receiver requirements, supporting all DRM core functionality such as Journaline advanced text and EWF. The design has been field tested in a number of cities in India. It is expected to be very cost-effective.
Recently it was announced that the Software Defined Radio (SDR) startup Inntot Technologies has raised about Rs 3.3 crore (USD 0.5 million) in its seed round from early-stage venture capital firm Unicorn India Ventures for developing DRM receiver solutions and other digital radio products. “The USP of our solution is that it runs on generic hardware thus making it an affordable solution for the OEMs. We are also exploring the mobile phone segment to use our SDR solution for radio reception,” declared Rajith Nair, cofounder, Inntot, to the Economic Times of India. The company is open to collaboration for its projects and for the manufacturing of their solutions. While the first models included solutions for DRM in AM, provision for DRM in the FM band is also planned to be incorporated in the unit soon.
GeekSynergy another start-up company in India, which has been given awards by the President of India and the Karnataka Government, is working on the development of a highly affordable yet full-featured DRM receiver, which is likely to be showcased by summer 2018. The company is also working on incorporating DRM into smartphones using one of the most well-known chips installed in all the branded mobile phones.
Gospell Digital Technology Co Ltd located in China has presented a very well-reviewed DRM Receiver, GR‑216, which is already in production. These units can receive DRM signals in the AM as well as the VHF bands for large-area and local services, respectively. Core DRM features such as Journaline advanced text and EWF – with automatic device-wake-up from deep-standby are supported. The company is likely to market their units on Amazon and also receives separate orders. The model has obtained CE certification for international distribution including to Europe. In addition, Gospell is developing a DRM receiver dongle, GR-227, which can be plugged in the existing audio systems in the automobiles on USB ports or Aux input to receive DRM signals. This was highlighted in his tweet feed even by the AIR CEO in June 2018. The receiver model will allow legacy cars already on the road and with analog AM and FM reception to be upgraded to DRM digital reception through this simple add-on device. The unit is likely to go into production shortly.
Titus SDR, a Panamanian-based company, has developed a multi-standard and software-based digital radio receiver, supporting DRM in all bands (LW, MW, SW, VHF bands I, II, III), FM analog including RDS and AM analog including AMSS. The full feature set of DRM functionality is supported by this device, including Journaline advanced text with full Unicode multi-script support, slideshow images, EWF, transparent file transmissions (e.g., for educational services, when combined with the power of the full integrated Android based tablet), EPG/SPI, and service logo download. In addition, the model features a wi-fi hotspot feature, which allows all wi-fi enabled mobile devices to connect to the Titus and receive all the DRM services including audio streaming and Journaline using their standard web browser. The Titus receiver was showcased at the IBC Exhibition in Amsterdam, at HFCC meetings, and at the recent DRM General Assembly 2018 in Palma de Mallorca. The company is offering an innovative OEM model for production in interested markets using local expertise and manpower – another excellent open solution ideal for joint ventures.
AIR in phase-II of the DRM roll-out
As can be seen above, a lot has been achieved in India recently and the stage is well set for rolling out fully-fledged digital broadcast services on the terrestrial network in India. AIR has the opportunity now to explore the full potential of DRM digital broadcasts so that radio listeners see the benefits of acquiring and using digital radio desktop receivers and cars with line-fit DRM radios. So far, the national DRM roll-out project by AIR was focusing on establishing the transmitter network all over the country (which was successfully concluded). It is the time now to concentrate on optimizing the DRM coverage and service quality, while also finalizing the content offerings with additional audio services and the innovative advanced DRM features such as Journaline advanced text. Those enhanced DRM services with greatly improved coverage and audio quality along with Journaline and service logo transmissions have already been placed on-air in Delhi and Bangalore and are scheduled to be on-air within the next weeks in Pune and Chennai. Step-by-step the remaining DRM transmissions all over the country will then may be upgraded to the full DRM experience.
AIR in Bangalore has added on its website a dedicated section called Listen Live. DRM features there prominently under the heading: DRM Digital Radio Bengaluru. Both best known AIR programs, Vividh Bharati and AIR Gold FM, can be accessed and listened to. In addition, Journaline advanced text is also accessible on that site. The AIR Bengaluru site can be accessed easily on any type of device, including smartphones.
Here is an example of the AIR Bengaluru on-air monitoring service, with current DRM programs and the AIR Journaline Service text content (including latest AIR news on various topics, EPG program information and schedule, DRM updates, and AIR contact and background information).
This ongoing activity by AIR to upgrade their service offerings to the full DRM experience should be on the agenda and closely accompanied by the interested stakeholders who meet regularly. At their latest meeting at the end of May several ideas and suggestions were made or reiterated for making AIR a digital radio pioneer like:
i. Provide popular programs in excellent digital audio quality
ii. Provide innovative and relevant multi-lingual text services through Journaline
iii. Provide traffic information, EWF, logo transmissions, etc.
iv. Take private FM broadcasters on board on AIR’s DRM national network in the MW band and provide them with either time slots or with one exclusive channel (out of the up to three channels are now available in pure DRM from one transmitter). Since AIR DRM transmitters can cover an area of over 60 percent of the country when operated in pure DRM, listeners in these areas would be able to receive programs of private broadcasters too, which so far have not been available on FM with its limited coverage area. Listeners in these areas would therefore be motivated to buy DRM receivers. This would create a quick popularity of DRM services, as seen in the case of the introduction of FM India
v. All this needs an extensive public awareness campaign including demonstrations of digital services in community centers, railway stations, airports, and other public places
vi. Programs on the DRM digital radio platform are already bringing new content to many areas in India, in which they could previously not be received over any radio platform (neither AM nor FM). AIR should identify these areas and start a public awareness campaign in these specific areas
vii. AIR should start DRM digital services on the two 100 kW SW transmitters under installation/testing in Delhi. One was tested recently proving the commitment of AIR to fulfill the assurance made by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to the Indian Parliament and mentioned in the report of the Ministry for 2017 under Major Achievement of the Ministry that two new shortwave solid-state digital transmitters of 100 kW to broadcast to the border for Afghanistan–Pakistan region
viii. As already mentioned, stakeholders are encouraging the government to consider giving incentives to the private broadcasters to start DRM services and to the domestic DRM receiver manufacturers so that standalone DRM receivers are available in ever increasing numbers at affordable prices
ix. As the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has already made its recommendation on the digitization of the VHF band II (FM), the major Indian stakeholders are expecting the government to frame a policy for digitization of the VHF band and announce it urgently so that there is no uncertainty or confusion among major stakeholders and that the full ecosystem for digital broadcasts can continue to be developed smoothly
x. With so much progress having been made in India, there is increasing pressure for the implementation by AIR of all the DRM features, and for the public announcement of a clear roadmap for introducing all the digital radio services (coverage and features) in India; the official public announcement is needed by all the broadcasters, the radio receiver industry, as well as by listeners