| 05 Dec 2023
TRAI does not plan to mandate digital radio broadcasting, indicates Sharma

NEW DELHI: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Chairman R S Sharma has indicated that there are no plans to mandate digital radio broadcasting and assured broadcasters of FM Channels that the regulator will ensure that there is no disruption of their programmes.

Addressing an Open House Discussion held late last month on the Consultation Paper issued by TRAI earlier this year on Digital Radio Broadcasting.

Apart from Sharma, others present included TRAI Secretary S K Gupta and other senior officials, who also assured FM operators that the auctions for these channels will continue even as the regulator consults stakeholders in Delhi and outside.

References were also made by some stakeholders from TV channels which also have FM stations to the effect that the mandatory enforcement of digital addressable system had led to delays and a large number of cases in courts, some of which were still pending.

Digital Radio Mondiale-India head Yogendra Pal, said in his submission that DRM was the best suited for India as it would cover all kinds of transmission – FM, medium wave and short wave radio.

He said that Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), which was the other medium under consideration, was only suitable for FM broadcasting.

The paper on the subject had been issued on 10 July 2017 and several responses have been received by TRAI, including a detailed reply from DRM – India welcoming the concept and pointing out various advantages of the technology for both terrestrial and satellite radio broadcasting.

The paper had been issued even as TRAI noted that All India Radio is active in implementation of digital radio in MW and SW bands but there is no initiative in FM radio space either by public or private FM radio broadcasters. AIR has already invested heavily in DRM and completed phase one and entered the second phase of DRM.

Also Read: After DTT, TRAI now launches exercise on digital radio broadcasting

In addition, several automobile manufacturers had already installed radio sets that could receive both DRM and FM.

Since FM is primarily used for analogue transmission, TRAI had said that it appeared as if the frequency allocations under these policy guidelines are only for analogue transmission. Analogue FM technology can provide only one channel per frequency. Therefore, existing FM radio channels provide limited services to their listeners. In addition, analogue radio broadcasting is facing competition from emerging technologies and other platforms like webcasting, podcasting and internet streaming etc.

In view of this, the TRAI had suo moto issued the consultation paper on Issues related to digital radio broadcasting in India.

Late last year, TRAI had commenced a similar exercise in digital terrestrial television. Interestingly, both DTT and digital radio broadcasting has been the domain so far of the pubcaster Prasar Bharati.

At the outset, TRAI noted that radio is a prevalent source for providing entertainment, information and education to the masses due to its wide coverage, portability, low set-up cost and affordability. It posed thirteen questions for the stakeholders.

At present, terrestrial radio coverage in India is available in Frequency Modulation (FM) mode and Amplitude Modulation (AM) mode (Short Wave and Medium Wave). All India Radio (AIR) along with private sector radio broadcasters are providing terrestrial radio broadcast services throughout the country transmitting programs in AM and FM frequency bands.

AIR has 420 radio stations (AM & FM) that cover almost 92 per cent of the country by area and more than 99.20 per cent of the country’s population. Private sector radio broadcasters transmit programmes in FM mode only and presently operate through 293 radio stations. Private sector radio broadcasters are licensed to operate in FM frequency band (88-108 MHz).

Also Read: TRAI to host open house discussion on Digital Radio Broadcasting

In Phase-I of FM Radio, the government auctioned 108 FM radio channels in 40 cities. Out of these, only 21 FM radio channels became operational and subsequently migrated to Phase-II in 2005. Phase-II of FM Radio commenced in 2005 when a total of 337 channels were put on bid across 91 cities having population equal to or more than 300,000. Of 337 channels, 222 channels became operational. At the end of Phase-II, 243 FM Radio channels were operational in 86 cities.

Phase-III expansion of FM radio, 966 FM radio channels are to be made available in 333 cities. In the first batch of Phase-III, 135 private FM Radio channels in 69 cities were auctioned in 2015. Out of these, 96 FM Radio channels in 55 cities have been successfully auctioned.

In the second batch of Phase-III, 266 private FM Radio channels in 92 cities were auctioned in 20162. Out of these, 66 FM Radio channels in 48 cities have been successfully auctioned. As on 31st March 2017, 293 FM radio stations have been made operational in 84 cities by 32 private FM Radio broadcasters.

In order to encourage radio broadcasting for the specific sections of society, the government has allowed setting up of Community Radio Stations (CRS). CRS typically broadcast in FM band with low power transmitters restricting its coverage to the local community within approx 10 KM. There are 206 operational CRS at present.

Radio signals on FM are presently transmitted in analogue mode in the country. Analogue terrestrial radio broadcasting, when compared with digital mode, is inefficient and suffers from operational restrictions as discussed below:

Digital radio broadcasting has existed since quite some time around the world. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recommendations have described four major standards for the broadcast of digital radio which are DAB, ISDB-TSB, HD Radio and DRM.

In keeping with the pace of deployment of digital radio around the globe, the government in 2010 took a decisive step forward for transition from analogue radio services of AIR to digital mode of transmission. AIR conducted rigorous trials over the years and adopted the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) standard for low frequency band (MW and SW). It has initiated digitization of its MW and SW radio network in three phases. It has recently concluded Phase-I of digitisation of its network with the deployment of 37 digital (DRM) transmitters throughout the country, which are now operational and is now in the process of launching Phase-II of the DRM project by offering full features/services from these DRM transmitters and further improving service quality.