Nº 1 2014 > Broadcasting
Multimode broadcasting receiver
P.V. Giudici, Vice-Chairman of the Radiocommunication Advisory Group; and Alfredo Magenta, member of the Radio Regulations Board
The convergence of different digital services, coupled with the feasibility of an intelligent unique receiver — available at an accessible price — covering all radio bands and all different systems, offers a new way of thinking about telecommunications. This article envisages the advantages that a multimode broadcasting receiver would bring worldwide, and looks at some of the steps to be taken to make such a device universally available.
Selling a huge number of multimode devices would drastically reduce their unit cost, increase the services available to users, and open the door to a universal mobile telecommunications system integrated with all other services. This could create a new generation of systems and a new generation of services.
The key to progress along these lines is coordination between the different actors involved. If users are ready to buy the new equipment and industries are producing such equipment, then governments need to have the relevant frequency plans in place. Also, to promote change, it is important for there to be enough broadcast programmes with interesting content to attract users’ attention.
In an era of technological convergence, a low-cost receiver is a keystone in bridging the digital divide. Once the millions of old receivers are replaced, convergence of services will become a tangible reality. This will set the stage for the development of a universal mobile telecommunications system and hence of a global information society.
The increasing introduction of digital methods in different systems in the 1990s led ITU to undertake an in-depth analysis of the convergence of telecommunication services.
Digitization of services results from the development of technological systems. It involves both the development of new standards and the production of equipment capable of complying with them.
One of the first digital achievements was the digitization of signal distribution links, in order to reduce occupied bandwidth and make the received signal more resistant to noise. This enabled the producers of broadcast programmes to improve audio and video quality. Another step was the digitization of television broadcasting by satellite and, more recently, terrestrial transmissions. At the same time, the spread of personal computers and the Internet made possible the realization and transport of digital audio systems, video and multiplexed data.
This boosted the search for compatible alternative systems, leading to a convergence of services that will probably require a revision of frequency allocations and, as a consequence, new planning as well as redefinition of “service”. It will be the task of smart systems to package programmes, and of smart receiving equipment to select the requested programme and present it to the user in the desired form.
In some bands, the digitization of broadcast terrestrial radio programming has been left out of this process. A further step needs to be taken to digitalize radio broadcasts in amplitude modulation and frequency modulation, in order to harmonize broadcast and reception systems and complete the convergence of services.
New technologies can change society. In our time, we have seen information being spread incredibly quickly and cultural changes taking place even faster. Thanks to technologies such as shortwave and satellite, telecommunications now almost instantly reach more than 80 per cent of the world population.
This favourable situation calls for the enhancement of radio and television programmes by means of a global language translation system that enables users to receive these programmes in their own languages. The same applies, of course, to the transmission of text via the Internet. Here, however, the creation of language translation programmes has already made it possible to use e‑mail worldwide, across language barriers.
For radio and television programmes, a comparable system would require the creation of a receiver capable of coping with the technical, economic and sociological implications of converged systems. To meet these needs, the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) Study Group 6 (Broadcasting) has adopted Question 136/6 on world broadcasting roaming, as defined in Recommendation ITU–R M.1224. One solution would be the reception via a single receiver of all the radio and television programmes and multimedia available in different areas of the world.
We already have the latest generation of small mobile devices that serve as telephones, cameras, FM radio receivers, SMS transmitters and receivers, and so on. In addition, iPads and similar devices operate primarily on the Internet, while also serving as audio communication devices and television viewing platforms, among other functions.
From this level of technological development, the next step is to create a flexible, all-inclusive and universal reception system, which enables the use of different programmes and services. In other words, there is a need for a multimode receiver (a multimedia, multi-software, multi-standard, multi-band device) capable of satisfying a global audience.
A first step towards a multimode receiver is surely to make a multimode radio receiver, as recently proposed to Study Group 6. This might stimulate the production of specific chips for radio receiving functions. In the not too distant future, this in turn might facilitate the creation of an omni-purpose chip with the functions necessary for receiving global multimedia telecommunications.
A multimode radio receiver should satisfy the following user requirements. It should be compact, lightweight, and powered from the mains or by rechargeable battery with several hours autonomy. It should have all the manual controls of a radio receiver, enabling users to tune in to radio and television programmes in all the frequency bands allocated to broadcasting. The device should be capable of receiving all the emission standards currently being used for broadcasting around the world, and be able to download from the Internet any other specific emission standards being used for broadcasting in particular countries.
The device should offer a menu presenting, for each station, the quality level of the received signal. It should update, either automatically or on command, the list of programmes being received at the time, and it should read the metadata with information about the contents of the programme — language, genre (sports, news, music, and so on) and sub-genre (for example, classical music or light music). The menu should display a clickable list of stations that meet the selection criteria entered by the user and provide the user with a choice of languages. The receiver should provide translation into one main language chosen by the user.
Multimode radio receivers should also be designed with the capability of making information and communication technologies accessible to the more than 650 million people with sensory disabilities.
Meeting all these requirements obviously demands worldwide standardization, both of the receiver and of the multiplexed metadata in the programme stream.
Standardization of the receiver will perhaps initially require the production of different types of chips — one with the software needed to manage the different functions of the receiver, another to selecting the frequency bands and antenna. Given the high potential market demand for the devices, the cost of these chips should be sufficiently low to be commercially viable.
Of the eight billion people in the world today, some 30 per cent are probably ready for technological innovations in telecommunications. This would mean that there are at least two billion users ready to adopt technologically advanced devices. However, given that China, India and Brazil are beginning to use new technologies, and that these countries along with the developed nations in Europe, Asia and North America account for more than half of the world’s population, the number of users interested in purchasing new telecommunications equipment is likely to be nearer five billion. A market of this size would drastically reduce the unit cost of receivers, because production costs could be spread over a high number of saleable units.
The globalization of markets, the rise of multinational corporations and the availability of transport are among the factors that have made the world’s population increasingly mobile. Millions of people move far away from their homelands. Their desire to stay in touch with their countries of origin, coupled with a need to know about the place they are in, drives these users to seek a device that allows them rapid information updates.
Economic and legal aspects
Mobility in a global industrialized world requires the respect of both local and international regulations.
People can buy equipment capable of accessing local proprietary standards, in order to receive programmes that are available locally. It follows, from the standpoint of an intelligent unique receiver, that different standards can no longer be discriminated against because they must be recognized by the receiving device. This implies that the relevant software can be acquired.
Alongside the technical requirements, the development of a unique receiver would call for international economic standards to govern the acquisition of software. Such software must be not only downloadable, but at the same time non-transferable to other users. This further requires the development of international law to allow the uses of such intellectual property and to set penalties for abuses.
Advantages for manufacturers
The creation of a single multimode receiving apparatus would allow each holder of proprietary emission standards to retain possession of its intellectual property and to build different transmission apparatus for local services, thus conserving its domestic market.
At the same time, the intelligent unique receiver would reduce production costs because the same components could be used worldwide. Universal marketing would also decrease advertising costs.
A universal multimode broadcasting receiver would not only give the telecommunication market a boost, but would also break down barriers to the information society.