The one-day National Seminar 'DRM: The Future of Indian Radio - Business Opportunities for Stakeholders' on 28 February, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in co-operation with the DRM Consortium, was the first of its kind involving technology specialists, broadcasters and representatives of Government and industry. The seminar In New Delhi attended by over 120 participants focused on the opportunities offered by the current roll-out of digital radio to the Indian industry. Several speakers stressed that All India Radio (AIR) was equipped to launch DRM, which would make all short wave and medium wave channels available to everyone in FM-quality over an area and at a cost that no current or future FM plan could match. The reach would be unlike FM which was today available to around 45 per cent of the country (including 25 per cent coverage by private channels). On the other hand, medium wave covered the entire country.
Several speakers also said AIR examined in great detail all the options, made a judicious proposal sanctioned by the Indian government which was as recent as last month endorsed by an advisor to the Prime Minister. All India Radio (AIR) Deputy Director General (Engineering) S K Saxena stressed that 36 DRM transmitters were in various stages of implementation in the country under a plan approved by the Planning Commission. Officials of the AIR said that the commissioning of 100 kW, 200 kW and 300 kW Transmitters is likely to be over by end of December 2014. Eight DRM transmitters are already on air in simulcast, though AIR would like to move eventually to a digital signal only. AIR is in the process of replacing or converting 72 MW transmitters to digital ones across the country, which should increase coverage to 70 per cent of the Indian population, representing some 800 million people. As it was stressed throughout the day by many Indian and foreign speakers, DRM technology provides the listeners with enhanced audio quality, service reliability, added data services, emergency warning alerts, targeted advertising and a more efficient transmission system that greatly lowers the power costs.
FM, while popular in India, said Yogendra Pal, Honorary Chairman of the DRM Indian Platform, is spectrum hungry and not an answer in places like Delhi "where AIR alone would need up to 25 niche channels, an impossibility". Later in his presentation Matthias Stoll of Ampegon demonstrated how one 100KW DRM medium wave transmitter, working at 90 % efficiency, would need to be replaced with 15 FM transmitters of 10 kW working at 55% efficiency, if an area of about 600 kilometres is to be covered.
Referring to criticism that affordable DRM sets were not available, AIR Engineering-in-Chief R K Budhiraja said that four Indian manufacturers had expressed interest in manufacturing affordable DRM sets in response to a tender floated by AIR, provided there was content and demand. The clear aim of the seminar was to tackle head on the question of receivers. And the CII event did not disappoint as it included a full, lively session with excellent contributions from representatives of chipset manufacturers (like Analog Devices, NXP), local entrepreneurs engaged already in designing or even manufacturing receivers. All speakers underlined the need for the industry to grasp this opportunity, for the government to support the revival of the indigenous electronics industry and for the public broadcaster to give serious attention and support to the roll-out, content creation and communication of a project with vast possibilities. Thus, Mr TVB Subrahmanyam of Analog Devices gave a clear picture of the potential yearly DRM market of about 16 million desktop, mobile and car radios, estimated at possibly a value of up to half a billion dollars.
Mr Ashak Chandok of NXP gave examples of the excellent tests carried out in cars in areas already covered by AIR DRM transmitters. If mobiles and cars are a clear market opportunity, Mr Ankit Aggrawal of Communication Systems Inc. offered a glimpse into the first Indian made desktop DRM receiver with all extra DRM features, ready to be produced very soon. Businessmen like A Kharabanda and Mr Ramendra Baoni talked about the excitement, the real challenges and great opportunities the DRM receiver market affords those willing to take the risk. All speakers mentioned that the price of receivers is dependent on good, desirable content and on volume while no price was really mentioned. Mr V Sharma, Chairman of CII National Committee on ICTE Manufacturing, sees the next step as getting the DRM receivers to be recognised by the government and manufacturers as one of the critical products deserving interest and investment.
Ruxandra Obreja, DRM Chairman, says that: " All in all this was the most successful meeting held by the DRM with the industry in India to date. The CII event offered up to the minute information on the roll out and actual DRM transmissions on the air and excellent news on DRM production. The buzz was all positive and palpable especially when one of the speakers Alexander Zink of Fraunhofer IIS demonstrated the sound qualities of DRM and then produced a regular tablet receiving DRM "live" on an attached dongle."
The progress on DRM in India and other key countries will figure prominently during the DRM General Assembly scheduled to take place on March 26th.