Already 10 years in the making, in-band on-channel digital audio
broadcasting has promised to be the next evolution of terrestrial
radio; an evolution that would carry the radio industry through the
next 100 years.
The concept, plans and tests have all promised improved audio
service with additional capabilities. From the beginning there have
been reports and articles about various DAB technologies. Do you
remember the early comparisons at the NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research
Center in Cleveland? I attended a demonstration of that setup. At that
time it was determined that more work was needed on the versions of
IBOC being evaluated. Looking back, I wonder why anyone even bothered
with the tests and evaluations. It seems that little of what was done
then is being used today.
From an original batch of developers, the field narrowed to one,
then two, then three and then back down to two and then one. You cannot
call it a roller coaster. Roller coasters move fast. This has been more
of a tilt-a-whirl; it just goes around and around.
So after 10 years of IBOC development, what does the industry have
Last year, Ibiquity announced that it was ready to move full steam
ahead. Agreements were struck with several transmitter manufacturers to
produce hardware. Plans were made to announce the technology launch at
the Consumer Electronics Show last January, followed by the launch at
the NAB convention in April. Meanwhile, the actions of the NRSC and FCC
have not exactly propelled the entire process forward. IBOC is still
moving ahead, but not at the pace that was expected. The announcement
of the licensing fees has turned most broadcasters away. The
passed-through costs from the equipment manufacturers was one that
would likely have been grudgingly accepted. A cost that is 15 times the
FCC's regulatory fee is more than most stations are willing to pay, let
alone actually afford.
DAB isn't dead in the water. Satellite radio began its service while
IBOC was still on the drawing board. The satellite providers aren't
immune to problems either. Both XM and Sirius are battling the wireless
industry over possible interference issues in the 2.3GHz/2.4GHz bands.
The skyward broadcasters are also under continuing scrutiny about their
terrestrial repeaters. While their short-term plans do not include any
repeater-based program origination, the owners will look at new
services and methods once the services are established and showing a
profit. One of these services likely will be local content.
Back to IBOC. NAB was its big chance. The FM tests looked good. The
NRSC endorsed this half of the system. Then the AM tests were evaluated
and looked fair on one part and failed on another. After years of
demonstrating AAC encoding, the PAC algorithm was loaded before it
could be optimized and then demonstrated for the convention. Between
the NRSC endorsing only half the AM system and the PAC demos sounding
terrible, we were shown that IBOC is not yet ready. In addition, on the
convention floor the sour taste of IBOC licensing fees and
passed-through hardware costs were still strong in the minds of
I want a digital radio service. I've waited 10 years for one. It's
still not here.
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