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Using Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) for Large Regions

The BBC World Service, available on radio, TV and online is part of one of the largest news organisation in the world, the BBC. The weekly reach of the World Service on all platforms accounted for 269 million (up from 246 million in 2015/16). Not long ago the World Service announced its biggest expansion since the 1940s, in a move designed to bring its independent journalism to millions more people around the world, including in places where media freedom is under threat. The World Service expansion includes new services in Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Serbian, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba – as well as enhancing existing services in Russia, Africa and around the Arab world.

Large numbers of the BBC’s audience still need international radio broadcasts. Historically people listened to BBC World Service in English and BBC language services through short wave radio, for an impartial news service. And the audiences remain high as last year the World Service radio audience was 154.5 million. The largest short wave markets are West Africa, Central Africa and across South and South East Asia. Mediumwave is of importance in the Arabic speaking world and West Asia.

Right from its late 90s inception the development of Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) was fully supported and enhanced by the BBC World Service. DRM was seen as an efficient replacement for the analogue AM transmissions. When we consider scarcity of spectrum for new uses and appreciate the characteristics of the radio broadcast bands we recognise the tremendous properties these continue to offer broadcasters to deliver programmes over sometimes very large distances and areas or in difficult terrain. Digitising these bands with a system such as DRM offers many more benefits to the audience and broadcaster.

For example, we currently serve one of our markets with 32 low power FM transmitters (each with a radius of about 40 kilometres) and about 20% of the country is covered. Apart from the electricity costs for these FM transmitters, there are other operational costs to do with staffing, service and maintenance. In the future one single DRM short wave transmitter using a near vertical incidence and a power consumption of 6kW could offer at least two very good audio services (plus data) and 100% territorial coverage. 8 million households in cities and remote areas could be covered and the support costs considerably reduced.

Where medium wave frequencies and sites exist multi-channel (therefore multi-language, too) DRM broadcasts can be offered at improved quality, with reduced energy bills and running costs. Unlike analogue, DRM allows one frequency to be used repeatedly for the same service over a large area (a single frequency network), making more efficient use of the spectrum. DRM can transform the quality of the services on the AM bands to be clear and free of any of the interference and distortion. DRM provides text information and images, to complement programmes offering thus an enhanced experience to the listener. Recommended by ITU, DRM digital broadcasting has been proven to work excellently in the shortwave and medium wave bands. These bands remain key for international broadcasting delivering services without constraints of local ‘gatekeepers’, in our case allowing millions of people access to BBC News content free of charge. The radio markets are still there, the need for good quality audio with data enhancements is there. The BBC is keen to exploit DRM in order to deliver, to key markets, BBC content free of gatekeepers in a form that can be easily accessed. For that to be possible the multi-standard receiver chip is required and for manufacturers to appreciate and act on this global market potential.

Nigel Fry, Head of Distribution, BBC World Service



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