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The IBOC rollout begins
On Oct. 11, the FCC issued a First Report and Order, which stated that the FCC has selected in-band on-channel (IBOC) as the digital radio broadcast technology of choice for AM and FM.
In the R&O, the FCC stated that by adopting IBOC, broadcasters can “introduce digital operations efficiently and rapidly.” This statement carries some truth because no other DAB system has been developed for use in the United States. While Eureka 147 is being rolled out in other parts of the world — with mixed feelings and lackluster results — the commonly used L-band spectrum is not available in the United States. The order also eliminates the TV channel 6 spectrum as a potential new band; an idea that was supported by NPR and others.
The R&O also states that the “adoption of a single IBOC transmission standard will facilitate the development and commercialization of digital services for terrestrial broadcasters, and solicit industry assistance in the development of a formal standard.” This is all well and good, but in reading the R&O, you quickly see that while few details are given in the 27-page document, some issues are clarified and a path has been set for the future.
The main issue presented is that stations have been given the authority to commence transmitting a hybrid IBOC signal — a signal with analog and digital components — if they wish.
A formal IBOC standard is not specified. The Commission has deferred the standard-setting procedures and related broadcast licensing and service rule changes until it issues a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making.
There are three more key points in the R&O. While stations can begin transmitting IBOC, they must still notify the FCC and obtain a special temporary authorization (STA). Some broadcasters believed that the FCC opened the field for an IBOC free-for-all. This is not the case; an STA is still required.
The R&O also details the plan to prevent interference from stations transmitting an IBOC signal. It allows stations to remedy interference situations on their own first, and allows the IBOC interferer to reduce its IBOC signal by as much as 6dB in the interim to rectify the problem.
The final point is that the use of separate antennas — one for analog and one for digital — is prohibited. Stations must use their existing, licensed antenna systems.
When the FCC began its DAB evaluation, it established a list of 10 criteria to qualify its decision. These criteria specify that the chosen system will provide 1) enhanced audio fidelity; 2) robustness to interference and other signal impairments; 3) compatibility with existing analog service; 4) spectrum efficiency; 5) flexibility; 6) auxiliary capability; 7) extensibility; 8) accommodation for existing broadcasters; 9) [practical] coverage; and 10) [reasonable] implementation costs and affordability of equipment.
Does Ibiquity's IBOC meet all these criteria? The NRSC feels that it does, with the exception of the AM nighttime service. At this time, the interference from skywave signals is too great. However, the R&O does allow IBOC transmission during the pre-sunrise and post-sunset critical hours.
Cost is still a subject of debate. While the projected average cost to a station depends on the capability of its existing equipment and the station's audience reach, the FCC and Ibiquity argue that these costs are not unreasonable. During my one-on-one session with Ibiquity CEO Bob Struble at the Kagan Radio Summit last month, Struble commented that the capital costs were a drop in the bucket in the overall operations of a station. This statement carries some merit, but it could force a station to incur the cost of a new transmission system sooner than it had originally planned.
Specific details on the roll-out and specification will follow, but the FCC has already made a point to not let this follow the same path as the AM stereo roll-out.
The IBOC rollout has begun. An interesting ride is bound to follow.
Read or download the complete First Report and Order at this link: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-02-286A1.doc
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