The committed engineer and entrepreneur founded today's Lawo AG in 1970
Despite or because of the pandemic, radio has proven once again its resilience by consolidating its place in its 100th anniversary year. DRM, not immune to the unprecedented challenges of 2020, has proven more than ever that it is the mass digital communication platform for our times.
For years, the DRM consortium has demonstrated that it’s an open, efficient and flexible all-band digital audio broadcasting standard that can ensure a smooth transition to digital broadcasting. DRM can deliver at least the same, if not better than FM, audio quality even in the AM bands, as well as other multimedia benefits.
The standard allows existing infrastructure upgrades, easy configuration, remote accessibility, and has compatibility with other open standards. While many engineers are convinced, what about the other decision makers? These old and new stakeholders and enthusiasts were the target in the 2020 virtual conference rooms where a “show and tell” approach demonstrated DRM’s services and advantages in both AM and FM bands.
In 2020, India remains the biggest digital radio country in the world. Despite the pandemic, the standard’s progress in the country continues. The public broadcaster, All India Radio, has been diversifying content on up to three channels on one frequency, and has been increasing the number of pure DRM hours on air.
Important milestones include: More than 2.5 million cars with line-fit radios, a newly announced automotive DRM workgroup, as well as a planning unit for DRM activities and communication in All India Radio. Still, in this nation of 1.3 billion people, FM digitization has not made the expected progress yet, and our hope is that 2021 brings a decision that will permit India’s deployment of the full DRM standard on both the AM and FM bands.
Apart from India, we saw Indonesia embracing the standard as the public broadcaster, Radio Republik Indonesia, and other bodies demonstrated DRM in FM. They used the installed digital FM capability to see how it could also deliver emergency warning signals and text on the digital radio screens. Pakistan, which had tested DRM in FM in Islamabad some years back, has come up with an efficient plan for a comprehensive DRM rollout in all bands, and is working hard to see DRM recommended for all new cars from 2021 onward.
In addition, DRM was also included in the dual-standard (DRM and DAB+) digital radio policy of South Africa, where the draft-licensing framework is out for consultation now.
Russia deployed DRM AM in Siberia and is continuing the successful demonstration of DRM on FM in St. Petersburg.
Also, the new technical development of the extra-efficient use of DRM FM, which we introduced at the beginning of the year, has attracted a lot of attention. This advancement means one antenna and one transmitter can broadcast between 12 to 18 pure DRM channels. DRM for FM delivers energy savings of up to 90%, when compared with analog. This new technical improvement gives a station or several stations, if they choose to cooperate, the chance to considerably save on energy and transmitter management costs.
At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil is trialing AM in shortwave on a locally produced transmitter. Also, the country’s public broadcaster has issued a tender including DRM for AM and FM.
In addition, Radio Marti in the United States is being beamed daily from Virginia toward Central and Latin America on shortwave DRM.
Meanwhile, China continues with its shortwave DRM domestic near 24-hour daily transmissions from seven key sites.
The standard was also included in new plans and infrastructures in The Maldives, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries. There is renewed interest for DRM in the United States as well. Wouldn’t it be great to have a demonstration of DRM and all its features, including its many multimedia possibilities in the U.S. next year?
Not Just for Audio
That said, the consortium has placed much of its attention on DRM’s capabilities to deliver multimedia and, therefore, textual information needed to deliver emergency warnings and to facilitate distance learning. Indonesia has been showing increasing interest in the Emergency Warning Functionality (EWF) (after seeing its potential being demonstrated in India).
DRM for distance learning was a new use of the standard achieved and demonstrated by using the Journaline application. Lessons to be delivered to a digital radio, mobile, laptop screen or on a large screen, as part of public signage, could open new avenues for DRM. This is an area worth developing in 2021.
At the BES event in New Delhi, India, in Feb. 2020, several manufacturers from China, India, Germany, Korea and the U.K. showcased dozens of receivers mainly for AM (medium-wave) but also for digital FM. We expect that receiver manufacturer DRM members will see next year the kind of orders they need, to bring DRM receivers in numbers. Retailers and distributors require large orders from countries rolling out DRM and only these can substantially drive down the costs of such receivers.
What’s more, since other countries are now ready to consider radio digitization, this year we have endeavored to go beyond the technical parameters and explain some of the key implementation steps needed for a successful rollout. Watch our informative video here.
The Road Ahead
As illustrated above, 2020 has been an incredibly good year for DRM, as it has forced us to do many things differently. These included addressing a much wider number of interested countries and stakeholders, improving and positioning DRM accurately — as an important part of the digital landscape filling the gaps that TV, IP, 5G, satellite or local broadcast solutions can’t yet deliver.
In the next year, we expect to see masses of DRM and multi-standard receivers and receiver solutions at affordable prices in more countries that are adopting DRM. We will also strive to engage more with the automotive industry. We also intend to extend the presentation, adoption and use of DRM for audio (also data) in new territories, including the United States, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Latin America, Africa and Australia.
We’ll also carve out a special place for the DRM capability to bring education to the millions of students who don’t have access to expensive gadgets and IP.
In 2021, millions of new and old listeners will discover and rediscover the wonder of radio, of digital radio. DRM delivers more than spectrum, energy savings and excellent audio. It will make available the kind of information that can help billions face the new post-COVID reality.
Let us make 2021 a better DRM year than 2020!
The author is DRM consortium chair.