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Digital Radio: Terrestrial, Satellite Options On The Way

In-band on-channel (IBOC) technology would let AM and FM radio stations use their existing equipment and dial positions to deliver digital audio to listeners.

Two proposed, and incompatible, IBOC technologies would let broadcasters simultaneously deliver analog and digital broadcasts on their assigned frequencies during a transition period after which analog broadcasts could be turned off permanently.

The technologies, proposed by USA Digital Radio (USADR) and Lucent Technologies, would deliver near-FM-quality sound on AM stations and near-CD-quality sound on FM stations. They are said to restore coverage lost by co-channel interference; reduce first-adjacent-channel and second-adjacent-channel interference that could also reduce a signal’s reach within a given market; be more resistant to multipath interference; and eliminate FM background hiss.

Like their satellite-based counterparts, the IBOC technologies would also deliver program information such as song titles.

In a planned rulemaking proposal due sometime this summer, the FCC will likely seek lab- and field-test results of the competing formats by the end of the year, according to USADR, a consortium that includes major radio broadcasters. The FCC might then choose a single standard for terrestrial DAR.

Once a rulemaking proposal is adopted, USADR believes some stations will put IBOC on the air in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter of 2000, with receivers in stores in the first quarter of 2001.

USADR will recommend that the FCC not mandate a conversion timetable as it did with DTV.

Two satellite radio providers got FCC licenses in 1997 to operate service in the 2.3GHz band. For a monthly fee of $9.95, both plan a 100-channel coast-to-coast subscription service that includes a mix of ad-supported and commercial-free channels delivering near-CD-quality music, news, and other entertainment.

One of the two companies, CD Radio, is initially targeting the car market, while XM Satellite Radio is targeting the home and car markets.

Although the FCC mandated that SDAR receivers must be able to receive broadcasts from both licensees, the two SDAR providers say compatibility won’t be achieved in the first generation.

CD Radio plans to launch commercial service in late 2000, and XM plans commercial operation in 2001.

Ford plans to offer CD Radio receivers exclusively through March 2002 beginning as early as the first quarter of 2001. The automaker will eventually offer the receivers through all of the brands it owns or controls: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Volvo.

Other companies committed to making CD Radio receivers are Recoton and GM’s Delphi unit.

XM, meanwhile, has lined up General Motors to support its launch. GM plans to install XM radios during model year 2002, coinciding with planned “meaningful commercial operation” of XM’s system “in the first part of 2001,” said XM president Hugh Panero.

GM declined to indicate which of its divisions and models would offer XM radios.

XM has also signed Alpine, Pioneer and Sharp to manufacture receivers for its services.