January 2014
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CES 2014 and the Digital Radio question

I have been busy of late, however, still keeping abreast of the news of the day.  Along with that, CES 2014 wrapped up recently.  No huge developments, especially when it comes to Broadcasting.  However, there was one item of interest; the updated technical specifications of IEEE 802.11ac.

It is of interest here because of the implications of the mobile/portable data developments and their impact on traditional AM and FM broadcasting. The new specification calls for 1.2 Gbp/s per device in the initial release, increasing that throughput to 6 Gbp/s in later releases.  These data rates are for overall transmission, including the WiFi overhead.  Actual usable application data (layer 5-7) would be about 20 to 30 percent less.  Even so, 900 Mbp/s is a phenomenal data rate.  Truely I say to you; this is the future of digital broadcasting.  HD Radio™; it may well prove that the “HD” stood for “Huge Distraction.”

The new 802.11ac specification uses MU-MIMO, high density modulation, larger channel bandwidths, and beamforming technology in the 5 GHz WiFi spectrum.  Of course, the question is, at what distances will this system work?  If it is like conventional WiFi, then 100-200 feet is about all that can be expected.  However, there are also many people interested in wireless broadband (WiMAX) service as an alternative to traditional wired ISPs. For that application, having many outdoor 802.11ac nodes connected by a backbone could potentially blanket a city or campus with free high speed wireless data.

Example of cjdns network

Example of cjdns network

Along the same lines, there are many people involved in creating mesh networks of various types; be they ad-hoc mobile networks, darknets, bitclouds, etc. Mesh networking is a very interesting topic, for me at least.  The network protocols are getting better and more secure.  WiFi hardware is becoming less expensive and more reliable.  As more and more people put effort into developing protocols like cjdns, local mesh networks will become wide spread, unless they are outlawed.  You know; because of teh terrorism!!1!!

As it stands today, I can drive for two hours in mostly rural upstate NY and CT streaming my favorite radio programs and have nearly seamless hand offs and very few dropouts.  This is on my three year old, beat up 3G HTC android phone sitting in the passenger seat of my car.

Digital Radio is here, it is simply not the In Band On Channel system that legacy broadcaster’s have chosen.

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8 comments to CES 2014 and the Digital Radio question

  • Alan

    Both you and I have experience with Great Barrington’s WSBS-AM — as excellent an example of local “townie” radio as one can fathom. What does the updated 802.11 mean for that model of local radio?

    Cities like Torrington, Conn., Martinsville, Ind., Luray, Va. are all deserving of local radio service (at least those that haven’t given up and gone on the bird already). Of what use will this be to those regions that can best be called the fringe of the fringe for both OTA radio and TV as well as WiFi?

    Now there’s a topic for an NAB workshop.

  • Paul Thurst

    Allen, as you know, broadcasting licenses are difficult to come by; spectrum is limited, those that hold the current allocations are not likely to give them up. Thus, 5.8 GHz WiFi networks coupled with wired public networks may become the broadcasting model for the future. Clearly, at least to me, the content distribution methods are changing from traditional broadcasting models to IP distribution.

    Already, music services like spotify and pandora are competing with the automated radio station model used by broadcast consolidators. where both those systems fall apart is the local information aspect. Figure out a way to merge local radio with IP distribution including all the bells and whistles (title song artist, album art, song purchase, concert information, etc) and you will be king.

  • It costs me 20 bucks a month to run my small Internet station, royalties covered. Of course this goes up with the number of listeners and how complex you want to get but I know people that are doing it. For a community that can’t get a radio station, a college or high school this could be a way to go. It’s easy to do. With the right content and promotion this can work. In my area WiFi is all over the place. If things got just a little better I think we’d have something. It’s yet another way to deliver your product. And as a retired broadcast engineer it gives me something to do.

  • Bubba

    So called “HD” Radio is not HD, and it is not IBOC.

    48 kb/sec divided into three channels, and using a very inexpensive CODEC cannot sound good! Would you listen Imagine if the main channel gets 24 kb/sec. UM, would you rip your music for your MP3 player, using MP2 Level 3 (MP3)? It sounds dreadful. The AM data rate is MUCH less.

    Ibiquity says that HD stands for nothing. We all know they chose that for confusion sake.

    IBOC is a lie. It is not In Band, On Channel. It is IBAC, In Band, ADJACENT Channel. This causes interference, especially on AM, and even more so at night. They, even the FMs get interference from the adjacent channel noise, though many cannot hear it. Want to hear it? Tune in an FM station running IBAC on a non-channelized analog radio and tune a bit off frequency. It is bad.

    On AM, we have stations 1,000 or more miles apart interfering with each other on adjacent channels.

    I only wish you were right about it going away, but broadcasters have spent a lot of money on it, and some stations, especially NPR stations, love the second and third audio channel. Imagine how good that third channel sounds at a generally used 8 kb/second! It is dreadful, but rarely is music. Most are BBC.

  • Sprint ran WiMax for their original (the ITU says it’s not really) 4G service, and I had it, and it was garbage.

    Their new LTE 4G service is *amazing*.

  • Keith

    You may want to visit this site for updates on municipal broadband networks. Comcast, Verizon and others have mounted full scale campaigns to prohibit municipal networks. Many States and municipalities have already “rolled over and played dead”. http://www.muninetworks.org/

  • Paul Thurst

    Comcast, Verizon and others have mounted full scale campaigns to prohibit municipal networks. Many States and municipalities have already “rolled over and played dead”

    Which is all the more reason to call attention to them before it is too late.

  • StvCmty

    I have to agree that HD radio is/was a “huge distraction”.

    I just looked at the websites for the dozen closest radio stations to my house that are licensed to broadcast analog/digital hybrid IBOC. I am north east of Baltimore, 16 miles from TV hill. Of the 12, I could only find a mention of HD radio on 3. None of them talk about transmitting with HD on their home page. One a CBS page, searching for HD radio got me to a page bragging about how they use a HD-2 channel to feed a translator to bring a new country “station” on the air (new country 106.1), the page is from October 2013. On WWMX’s web site I used search to find a page from 2010 bragging about a dance music channel on 106.5-2. On WYPR, a NPR station, I found a page explaining what HD radio is, they link to the npr shop in the hopes of getting people to buy a HD radio from npr.

    I have a HD radio at home. When I connect it to a FM6 I have outside of my house I get reliable HD radio reception. Some of the HD-2/3/4 channels have neat stuff, but not really anything different from other stations I can get. 2 of the HD-2/3/4 channels are things I can get from translators fed by them in analog. Some of the HD-2/3/4 channels are AM’s. My house is not friendly to indoor AM reception and I have not put up any sort of outdoor AM antenna yet so some of the AM’s on HD-2/3/4 channels is nice, but it does not make a HD radio for my car a must have.

    So at this moment in time, radio stations are not proud of transmitting with HD radio, the content is nothing special, and the “best” HD-2/3/4 channels are ending up on translators. So, I agree that HD radio is/was a “huge distraction”.

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