DRM Consortium member TVB Subrahmanyam (Director Worldwide Home Audio Consumer Segment, Analog Devices, India) describes the lifecycle of new technology products and how receiver manufacturers are starting to embrace the new digital radio technology of DRM.

As kids, we all have observed ants walking in line towards some sugary treat. When we use our finger and swipe the floor cutting across this line, most of the ants stop at this imaginary line and make a U-turn. In a short while one courageous ant defies this order and cuts across this imaginary line, little cautiously though. The other ants then start following the first ant and the line resumes within no time.

Technology in the consumer world is no different, as the manufacturers are like ants. The change in technology is like a finger swiping across the line and creating a gap. At this point, most manufacturers making traditional products retreat or slow down. Some courageous ones though, called industry leaders, cautiously adapt and start moving with the new technology. Once the lead manufacturer starts making money, the others also begin to use this new technology and get into manufacturing to compete successfully

Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) is one such finger swiping and pole vaulting the traditional radio technology. Initially there were about half a dozen players in the world which adopted this technology and made the first desktop radio receivers. They were expensive for obvious reasons. The transmitter manufacturers and broadcasters could use these early receivers to demonstrate this new technology which would convince both the industry decision makers as well as other radio manufacturers. The content creators within radio stations were able to understand and appreciate the new features available in radio receivers thus using their creativity and producing programmes which are now appealing to the radio listeners. This was the first phase in the adoption of the DRM technology.

The second phase has just begun, not necessarily as difficult as the technology metamorphosis which the early adopters had to face. The second phase is essentially a mutation of the desktop radio receivers as well as an extension into automotive and portable segment products. The initial hurdle of engineering and converting the DRM technology into a radio receiver product is now history. The new technology is available now from all DRM chip manufacturers. Miniaturization, integration, transformation of external physical appearance of a radio receiver are all the specific DNA which will mutate. The multiple transmitters currently broadcasting DRM signals will function as a catalyst to this mutation. A market window for manufacturing DRM desktop radio receivers, dongles for mobile phones and tablets, as well as receivers for cars has now opened. The radio industry has started the planning for creating such products, which will appear in the market soon.

Desktop radios, car radios and mobile radios have the same ingredients essentially. These are:

-        The Tuner: it captures the RF signal of interest or the chosen frequency, it amplifies, filters, down converts to lower frequency and possibly digitises.

-        Baseband processor: demodulates the digitised signal in the digital domain, extracts the required information called ‘channel decoding’ and provides data and encoded audio

-        Source decoder & Man Machine Interface (MMI): The data provided by the baseband processer is sieved for various types of information and decodes the encoded audio stream into normal digital audio stream. In addition, it also does other decoding for various other middleware blocks such as MOT, EPG, Journaline, etc. and also performs MMI functions.

All these key blocks are available today, they are tested and validated in the field in one form or another. Any interested radio manufacturer just has to pick up these blocks from specialised vendors along with their silicon, called chipset and install them in the aesthetically looking new radios, which suit their needs. Reference designs are also available. For any new geometric shape of the radio box there is a requirement to engineer the boards in such a way as to position the display, the switches and connectors appropriately and this is best done by radio manufacturers who already have this skill as their core strength.

A magnified view of the design and creation of the DRM digital radio receiver product  to be given in the next newsletter. More information always available on www.drm.org