Data Broadcasting - A Power House on Air

- K.M.Paul;

Former Engineer-In-Chief & Acting D.G.; AIR


Radio spectrum is a precious natural resource and therefore it should be optimally used. The spectrum user organizations whether they comply with the above regulation or not; while attending the meeting all of them make their best efforts to prove that his organization makes the most optimum use of spectrum. The optimum utilization of spectrum is a very tricky affair. Even when the full potential of a technology, which has close bearing with spectrum, is not exploited; it amounts to non-optimal utilization of spectrum. A very good example of this is the FM-Radio. The base band of FM Radio has the capacity to carry considerable amount of data in sub-carrier mode. This can be simultaneously broadcast with the main FM Radio programme, within the same RF channel bandwidth.  FM-RDS-Paging can carry about 1.2 Kbps of data. DARC (Data Radio Channel) system as developed by the NHK, Japan; has the capacity to carry 16 Kbps of data along with the main FM-Radio programme. This huge data capacity has very interesting and useful practical applications like- electronic bill-board; radio navigation of motor vehicle; differential GPS etc. apart from other information services.


            Talking about FM –Radio, it has been only recently privatised in India and is expanding rapidly. Privatisation started as Phase I. In the Phase II alone, 338 FM transmitters have been planned in various cities. Like other sectors the broadcasting is also getting digital. But the process of digitalization of transmission is slow. This is probably because of evolution of multiple standards, high receiver price and non-commensurate benefits accrued from digital broadcasting vis-à-vis the required investments by the user in the form of receiver price; service cost etc. Though the quality of digital transmission is technically superior to that of analogue FM; for all practical purposes the analog FM radio within its stereo service zone is fantastic and meets all practical requirements of high quality audio programme for the common listener as well as for the professionals. The plus point of analog FM radio is that, it is receivable in a small size & low cost pocket receiver worth Rs.100/-only.The listeners can enjoy the stereophonic sound quality in mobile receiving condition at this low cost.


This  strength of FM radio i.e. its capacity of simultaneous data broadcasting, has not been widely exploited so  far. The Government has set up a committee under the chairmanship of Shri Amit Mitra, Secretary General, FICCI to make recommendations for framing the regulations for the privatisation of FM radio in India under Phase II. The committee recommended authorisation of data broadcasting in FM radio. Committee’s recommendations were forwarded by the Ministry of I & B to the TRAI for their observations. The TRAI also endorsed the view of data broadcasting. However the final regulation which was notified by the Government. did not include this data broadcasting. As a result, though the technology of data broadcasting through FM radio is quite old, Government did not make any provision in the notified regulation to exploit this great potential of FM radio. It appears that neither the Government nor the private market gave proper attention or thought as to how this technological potential of FM radio can be best exploited commercially. Most interestingly the benefit of this data broadcasting is available without any demand for additional spectrum.


Lack of attention to this important feature has resulted in virtual non-optimal utilization of RF spectrum which is in contrary to the basic philosophy of spectrum utilization.


Government can therefore urgently open this technical potential of FM data broadcasting for privatisation. Such a policy will not only enable the Government to earn more revenue in the form of license fee, but also it will be a good source of commercial revenue for the private broadcasters. Above all the FM radio spectrum will be utilized to its full potential and bring additional socio-economic benefits to the people by way of new data broadcast services.


            In Japan the NHK  commenced data broadcasts from 17 January 2007, marking the 12th anniversary of the Kobe-earthquake which ravaged the area in 1995. The service provides details about earthquakes and tsunamis via data broadcasts for digital satellite, digital terrestrial and digital mobile TV (one segment) services. The service  enables people to obtain earthquake or tsunami related details easily and at any time, even when they had missed emergency news bulletins on TV. The NHK plans to make use of the merits of digital broadcasting in preparing against disasters and mitigating the damage & provide information that will ensure people’s safety, security and information  which will protect their lives and property.Data broadcasting  has many more useful applications.