Overview of HD Radio Technology
HD Radio Technology, which allows the transmission of digital radio broadcasting in the AM and FM bands, is transforming the radio experience. This technology has been developed by iBiquity Digital Corporation and is supported by leaders in the broadcasting, consumer electronics, retail and automobile industries. In the United States it is already available to more than 85% of radio listeners. Nearly 2,000 radio stations are already on the air with HD Radio Technology, and more than 1,100 of them are transmitting new “Multicasting” channels (HD2/HD3).
What is HD Radio Technology?
HD Radio Technology is a method of transmitting audio signals similar to the quality of a compact disc to consumer receivers, along with new data services such as the station identification, song title and artist, traffic, weather and much more. The HD Radio system allows AM and FM broadcasters to use their existing channels to transmit new digital programs of the highest audio quality simultaneously with their traditional analog programs. It eliminates the noise, static and fading that is well known with today’s analog radio.
HD Radio Technology allows AM and FM broadcasters to transmit new digital carriers along with their existing analog signals. Analog receivers continue to receive the same signals as always, but new digital receivers detect the added signals and deliver improved audio quality together with new services. These new digital signals are very low in power compared to the analog carriers so as not to cause harmful interference to the signals of the host station or its neighbors, but because of the great efficiency of OFDM digital modulation it allows digital reception to about the same coverage area as analog. When a receiver travels outside the limits of the digital coverage, the receiver reverts to the analog signal so there is no overall loss of coverage.
At some future date, when the majority of the receivers in the hands of consumers are digital, the technology allows stations to turn off their analog signals, increasing the throughput of data transmission and allowing the broadcasting of even more programs and new data services.
The Benefits of HD Radio Technology
This technique of simultaneous analog and digital transmission has important advantages over other digital radio technologies that require services to move to a new band or operate in an open frequency. It does not require any new spectrum, allowing a seamless transition to digital transmission at the pace of the market and without the need to set an “analog sunset” date. Each station can decide when it wants to change from the hybrid mode to full digital, or it can even decide to remain in analog.
HD Radio Technology permits FM stations to transmit with “Multicasting”, enabling them to divide their data stream into several audio channels (called HD2/HD3 channels) to offer multiple programs to listeners on just one frequency. It also offers data services, where a portion of the data stream can be set aside to transmit to consumers new services that are not associated with their radio programs. At the moment there are several data services operating in the United States, including text-based traffic services (TMC – “Traffic Message Channel”) and “iTunes® Tagging” (marking songs heard on the radio for later purchase).
Benefits for Radio Broadcasters:
- Adoption is not mandatory – it is a marketplace decision.
- Stations maintain their same frequencies, coverage, and identity.
- Each station can decide when to adopt hybrid transmission and when to turn off its analog signal.
- New HD2/HD3 channels and advanced data services can be new sources of income.
Benefits for Governments:
- There is no need to assign new spectrum.
- It increases the efficiency of the existing spectrum by allowing the transmission of more programs.
- It allows an orderly transition from analog to digital. d. There is no need for an “analog sunset”.
Benefits for Listeners:
- Digital sound quality: FM is near-CD quality, AM is close to analog FM stereo quality.
- Their analog receivers will not become obsolete.
- There is new programming available to those who have digital receivers.
- They are not required to buy new receivers before an “analog sunset”.
The Present State of the Rollout in the United States
In October, 2002, the FCC first authorized radio stations to transmit with HD Radio Technology on the AM and FM bands on an experimental basis. Since then the technology has been officially approved as the only terrestrial digital radio system that is used in the United States:
- 2002 – The first radio stations went on the air broadcasting with HD Radio Technology.
- 2004 – Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued for the regulation of digital radio.
- October, 2004 – The first Multicasting station went on the air.
- September, 2005 – The NRSC 5 standard was adopted, which publicly described the technology.
- March, 2007 – The FCC’s Second Report and Order was issued, which adopted the final rules for digital radio broadcasting, eliminating the requirement for temporary authorizations and officially allowing Multicasting.
- January 28, 2010 – FCC authorized all FM stations transmitting HD Radio Technology to optionally increase their digital power up to four times (to -14 dBc), and under certain conditions up to ten times (to -10 dBc).
As of January, 2010, there were 1,966 AM and FM stations on the air in 250 cities, including 197 of the 200 largest cities. There are signals on the air in all states and in Puerto Rico. The population served is approximately 250 million, or 85% of the total U.S. population. There are 957 FM stations transmitting 1,116 new Multicasting channels in 183 cities.
The Present State of the International Rollout
Due in great part to its capacity to deliver digital quality sound and new services within today’s existing analog spectrum, HD Radio Technology is gaining ground with permanent commercial implementation in several countries, including Brazil, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines and Switzerland. Trial operations are also underway in Indonesia, Romania, Ukraine and Thailand and field testing is completed or in process in countries including Canada, China, Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand and Poland.
In August of 2002, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) included iBiquity’s IBOC FM system in its Recommendation for digital broadcasting in the VHF band. The AM system was included in the ITU’s Recommendation for broadcasting below 30 MHz in April of 2001.
In May of 2008, Mexico’s CoFeTel approved the use of HD Radio AM and FM technology for any station located within 320 km of its northern border. At the moment there are about six AM and FM stations transmitting with HD Radio Technology in Mexico, and more than 20 applications are pending with CoFeTel.
In Brazil, the first station to transmit with HD Radio Technology went on the air in September of 2004. There are now more than 25 AM and FM stations using the technology in Brazil. Extensive field measurement tests were conducted in April and May of 2008, and the government has stated its desire to select a national digital radio standard in 2010.
Transmitters and Receivers are widely Available
The commercial implementation of the technology is well developed on both the transmission and reception sides. Presently there are eight transmitter manufacturers licensed by iBiquity to make HD Radio exciters. Those and other partners offer HD Radio compatible transmitters and other broadcast equipment in a complete range of power levels. At the NAB convention in 2008, four of these manufacturers together introduced a new transmission platform called the “Embedded Exporter” which increases the reliability of the broadcast components while reducing the implementation cost.
On the receiver side, there are now 60 brands offering more than 100 models of receivers. They are available at many of the large retail outlets around the US as well as on line. These include portables, table radios, stereo components and automobile receivers from well-known brands such as Jensen, JVC, Kenwood, Marantz, Panasonic, Radio Shack, Sony, and others. The majority of these receivers cost less than US$ 200 with many selling below US$ 100. The first portable models were introduced in 2009, and presently there are five models on the market with manufacturer suggested retail prices beginning at US$ 49.
To date, fifteen automobile manufacturers offer HD Radio receivers in their vehicles, either as standard equipment or as options, including Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercedes Benz, Mercury, Mini, Rolls Royce, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo.
Multicasting – HD2/HD3 Channels
The feature of the HD Radio system that has generated the most interest is Multicasting. This process enables the division of the data stream to deliver multiple audio programs to the listener on the same frequency and with the same transmitter. Upon receiving a digital signal, the receiver gives the user the option to select among any of the programs transmitted. The HD Radio system allows transmission at various data rates which can be subdivided at the discretion of the broadcaster. Currently, the system enables up to four digital audio programs to be transmitted on the same frequency.
In addition to the transmission of crisp, clean audio, the HD Radio data stream can be used for other useful purposes. Right now in the United States, parts of these data streams are being dedicated to other services such as:
- Program Service Data: HD Radio receivers support the reception of text data, including song title and artist, disc name, genre and commercial / promotional information.
- “iTunes Tagging”: The ability to transmit “metadata” about the song now playing, which may be stored on an Apple iPod and then used to build a list of marked songs inside the iTunes program to support the purchase of this music.
- Transit and Navigation Services: The ability to transmit and receive traffic information in real time and deliver it to navigation systems installed in vehicles, along with map updates, gasoline prices and other timely information.
- Time Shifting of Audio Programs: The ability to “rewind” audio programs or record blocks of programming to be played back at a later time. The programs are stored inside the receiver for later playback.
- Conditional Access: The encryption of an HD2/HD3 channel or data channel to allow programs or services to be directed only to certain authorized receivers. This opens new commercial and social service possibilities, such as:
Misunderstandings about HD Radio Technology
There are so many new technologies today that it is impossible to understand all of them fully. As a result, most people believe what they hear or read about these technologies. Unfortunately, at times what one hears or reads is not correct, creating a lot of misunderstandings. We will try here to rectify some of the most common misunderstandings about HD Radio Technology.
- Misunderstanding #1: HD Radio Technology is a based on a closed system
HD Radio Technology is based on an IBOC (“In Band, On Channel”) technical standard for digital radio broadcasting described by the NRSC (National Radio Systems Committee) in the United States under the designation NRSC-5B. This is an industry standard. HD Radio Technology is an implementation of this standard created by iBiquity Digital Corporation of the NRSC-5B IBOC standard. iBiquity licenses its implementation of this standard under fair and non-discriminatory terms to manufacturers and radio broadcasters.
- Misunderstanding #2: The HD Radio system will not work outside of the US
HD Radio Technology has been tested by, or under the supervision of, various independent organizations including the NRSC and numerous governments, consultants and radio broadcasters. The results of tests made by iBiquity and independent organizations are available to the public on the NRSC’s web site (www.nrscstandards.org) and on the FCC site (www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/digital). More than 2,000 broadcasters around the world have successfully implemented the technology, and some of these have now been in operation for more than six years.
The HD Radio FM system is viable in most parts of the world. The 10 kHz AM system is now being adapted to work in the 9 kHz environment outside the Americas.
- Misunderstanding #3: License costs are recurring and excessive
Like almost all high technology products in the world, the use of HD Radio Technology incorporates the payment of certain royalties for using proprietary intellectual property.. iBiquity operates in a manner similar to a technology consortium, in that it licenses and sub-licenses the necessary intellectual property, including patents, for the development and use of the technology.
In the United States, radio broadcasters pay a one-time fee directly to iBiquity for the use of its patents, trademarks, software and know-how in connection with the stations’ main programming. Additionally, there is a provision in the license that requires them to share with iBiquity the revenue that they realize from the use of certain advanced features of the technology, such as Multicasting or data services.
Nonetheless, iBiquity recognizes that the economic realities outside the U.S. are different. As a result, outside the U.S. all costs for the basic services of main channel digital broadcasting, Multicasting and program-associated text data are included in the purchase price of the equipment and software. Broadcasters are not required to pay anything directly to iBiquity.
iBiquity continues to develop applications and services that could result in new revenues for the radio broadcaster. iBiquity plans to work with broadcasters and their manufacturing partners to make these services and applications optionally available and under reasonable terms.
- Misunderstanding #4: It is expensive to implement HD Radio Technology
HD Radio Technology was designed to use the existing AM and FM station infrastructure. Costs of HD Radio conversions run between US$30K and $200K per station, with an average of about $100K, based on the station’s existing equipment and power levels. This cost includes all equipment necessary to convert a station. The transmission equipment industry has already created various alternatives that will reduce this cost for the implementation of the system in the future.
Broadcasters should find that the per-station cost to implement HD Radio Technology is equal to or less than the other digital radio technologies.
HD Radio Technology continues to grow with regard to station adoption, receiver offerings and availability, international interest and the opportunities it offers broadcasters and listeners. Tens of millions of hours of operation demonstrate that the system is compatible with existing analog services and the system design enables seamless rollout by broadcasters and adoption by listeners. New opportunities enabled by HD Radio Technology continue to be developed and deployed, both through the ability to transmit additional audio programming and data services. iBiquity Digital will continue to work with broadcasters, regulators, receiver, automobile and chip manufacturers, retailers, data developers and other essential industries to make the benefits of HD Radio Technology widely available to broadcasters and listeners around the world.