lunes, 8 de agosto de 2016

DRM at Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) Digital Radio Workshop

The Communications Regulators’ Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) convened its first Digital Radio Workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa from the 4 to 5 July 2016 and was hosted by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The Executive Secretary of CRASA, Mr. Antony Chigaazira, linked this workshop with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Strategic Development Plan and re-prioritised areas for growth and allowing industrial development and market integration. He also recognised that the supporting pillar for achievement of the SADC goals was the digital ICT infrastructure, which was being pursued under the SADC Digital 2020 Vision. He, therefore, said that digitization of the audio broadcasting technologies, if harnessed by both the SADC public and private sectors, could allow SADC to position itself as a hub for innovation as well as give opportunities to SADC citizens to become part of the global economy.
The Councillor of ICASA, Mr. Peter Zimri, who officially opened the Workshop, said that the Region should take the forum as an opportunity to commence with serious discussions on establishing policy and regulatory frameworks for implementation of the digital radio.
52 delegates attended the workshop as they represented ten Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, namely, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, as well as various organisations and CRASA partners. Presenters at the workshop came from LS Telcom, Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) and World Digital Audio Broadcasting (World DAB).
The workshop focused on the comparative advantages of digital radio over the analogue AM and FM (sound quality and frequency spectrum efficiency); understanding the DAB and DRM standards; discussing the guiding principles for the deployment of  Digital Sound Broadcasting; enjoying demonstrations of DRM and DAB reception and discussing the availability of chipsets and receivers.
Experts representing the DRM Southern Africa Platform and the global DRM consortium focused on both DRM for large areas and small area coverage. It was thus noted that DRM for large areas does not require a completely new infrastructure as AM can be upgraded to DRM delivering between one and three (3) radio programmes (depending on configuration) along with various multimedia components on one frequency while even operating in simulcast. The same features are enjoyed by DRM in all the VHF bands which could improve the radio listening experience while being compatible with worldwide spectrum (100 kHz bandwidth – half of FM).
The workshop participants recognised the critical need for political leadership and support to the digital radio implementation. As participants often mentioned during the workshop, the radio listeners in the region would want to have innovative digital features such as electronic programme guide, Journaline text, pictures, HI-FI quality, surround sound quality and emergency warning functionality (EWF). They also require a seamless switching between analogue and digital audio broadcasting and easy-to-use and affordable receivers able to give them access to innovative and exciting new content.
The importance of this meeting was that regulators were trying to reach a consensus on the standard(s) to be deployed in the 15 SADC countries. This would ensure a considerable uniform receiver market for one or two standards rather than leave each administration to make their own decision. Such a non-uniform, “patchwork” approach could lead to the slow introduction of digital radio which, in turn, would delay the provision of universal digital radio services to all SADC citizens.
Several speakers stressed during their presentations that the two open ITU endorsed digital radio standards, DRM and DAB, are fully complementary and, if deployed simultaneously, provide identical functionality to the listeners while together covering all required coverage scenarios from international and national to regional and local.
The digital workshop resulted in a series of recommendations to do with auditing what is available, studying critical ITU documents, relevant regulations and trial results, developing frequency plans in order to serve national digital radio networks for Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) and private radios; local digital radio networks for PBS, private and community radios; and regional digital radio networks for PBS and private radios. The participants were also encouraged to consider the relevant regulations including licensing structures to facilitate implementation of digital radio.
Ultimately all this activity aims to help the SADC countries to adopt one single digital radio solution (potentially consisting of the two open digital radio standards working together) for the benefit of the listeners while empowering the local industry to manufacture digital radio receivers in the region and for the world.
The DRM representatives made the case for DRM but also for multi-standard receivers explaining that multi-standard chips exist already and that this is not about one standard or another but about the progress of digital radio and about addressing all the distinct coverage needs in their diversity.
The findings of this group will be discussed in the executive board of CRASA who will make recommendations to the ministers of the 15 SADC countries regarding the preferred option for introducing digital radio in this big and important part of the African continent.

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