Meenakshi Singhvi, Deputy Director, All India Radio

"While AIR is active in implementation of digital radio in MW and SW bands, there appears to be no initiative in FM radio space either by public or private FM radio broadcasters."

The Telecom Authority of India (TRAI) has recently floated a consultation paper on issues related to digital radio broadcasting in India.

Radio signals are presently transmitted in analog mode in the country. Analog terrestrial radio broadcasting when compared with digital mode is inefficient and suffers operational restrictions as it is susceptible to radio frequency (RF) interference resulting in poorer reception quality.

Digital radio broadcasting was first introduced in European countries, and thereafter in the United States, Netherlands, France, and other countries. The evolution and adoption of digital radio broadcasting standards have been influenced by the existing transmission technologies used, chosen standards, and infrastructure. Countries around the world have chosen different standards through rigorous trials and examining the suitability of the new technology for various popular applications and ease of implementation.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recommendations have described four major standards for broadcast of digital radio which are DAB, ISDB-TSB, HD Radio, and DRM.

Digital radio broadcasting technologies can be deployed using two methods for transmission –in-band and out-of-band. In-band methods use existing analog frequency bands, while out-of-band methods use additional frequency bands. DRM+ and IBOC (HD Radio) use in-band methods, whereas DAB and DAB+ use out-of-band methods. Out-of-band methods are able to enlarge the throughput of data and enable provisioning of various application services to broadcasters. In the in-band method, digital signals are transmitted in the same band that is used for analog broadcasting at present. This will enhance the ease of implementation and facilitate simultaneous operation of both analog and digital signal. However, there is a restriction in data throughput and there could be interference problem because of coexistence with analog FM broadcastings. Therefore, prior to use of any digital technology interference study may need to be carried out.

The Government in 2010, took a decisive step for transition from analogue radio services to digital mode of transmission by deploying DRM transmitters in a phased manner in the AIR network.

While AIR is active in implementation of digital radio in MW and SW bands, there appears to be no initiative in FM radio space either by public or private FM radio broadcasters.

The ongoing phase-III auction process of FM radio channels in existing cities indicates emerging demands for additional frequencies. However, frequencies available are limited. In addition, analog radio broadcasting is facing competition from emerging technologies and other platforms like webcasting, podcasting, Internet streaming etc.

In a competitive environment digital radio broadcasting may provide exciting new opportunities to both FM radio broadcasters and listeners. By using digital radio broadcasting technologies, FM radio broadcasters can provide multiple channels/services on single frequency in existing FM bands. This may increase availability of number of channels. However, when a broadcaster would migrate to digital technology, customers too would need to upgrade their receiving sets, broadcasters may require to use both analog and digital system simultaneously in order to sustain their revenue tillthe digital receiver is developed and becomes cost effective.

TRAI's suo-motu, initiated this consultation process in order to seek stakeholders' comments on various issues related to development of an eco-system for deployment of digital FM radio broadcasting.

The TRAI has asked suggestions on various issues like whether the permission for operating FM channel be delinked from technology used for radio broadcasting, should the existing operational FM radio channels be permitted to migrate to digital broadcasting within assigned RF, and what measures should be taken to reduce the prices of digital radio receivers etc. The authority has sought comments by September 4 and counter-comments by September 18, 2017.