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USADR, Lucent To Merge Their IBOC Standards

WARREN, N.J. –The proponents of two competing terrestrial digital radio formats have agreed to merge their companies and their in-band on-channel (IBOC) technologies into a single standard to accelerate the digital radio rollout.

USA Digital Radio (USADR) of Columbia, Md., and Lucent Digital Radio, based here, said they will blend the best components of their two incompatible technologies into a unified standard during the next two to three months, then present it to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for adoption. Although the two companies will now spend two to three months to unify the standards, said Lucent Digital Radio president Suren Pai, “in the longer run, we essentially cut back the time to take the technology to market by a year or so.” In 2001, said Pai, “we’ll see a large number of broadcasters making the conversion,” and receivers will hit the market in late 2001 or early 2002.

That timetable, however, doesn’t seem to be much different from earlier statements by USADR that, should the FCC approve its IBOC standard by the end of 2000, it hoped to have 500 stations transmitting digital programs in 2001.

Nonetheless, USADR president Robert Struble said unification “removed the last barrier for a successful standards-setting process.” In addition, Struble said, “we expect a rapid acceleration of agreement with receiver partners” who had previously declined to begin receiver development until a single standard emerged.

In three to five years, the two companies said, IBOC chips will begin appearing in stationary and mobile devices such as cellular phones and PDAs to receive data wirelessly from radio stations.

Besides merging their technologies, the two companies also agreed to merge to form iBiquity Digital, based in both companies’ home towns. Lucent Digital Radio is owned by Lucent, and USADR is owned by 15 of the nation’s largest radio broadcasters and other radio-industry companies, including infrastructure makers.

So far, the two companies have agreed to adopt Lucent’s PAC codec, which was part of Lucent’s standard. That decision will accelerate the development of lower cost radios that combine terrestrial and satellite radio reception, the companies noted, because the two competing satellite radio broadcasters have also adopted PAC. The satellite broadcasters have also agreed to develop second-generation satellite rates that are interoperable.

Unification has the endorsement of the CEA and the FCC. The companies received “good encouragement and guidance from the FCC to come back with a unified proposal,” Pai said. CEA president Gary Shapiro called the decision “terrific news.”