Digital radio – coming to a car near you

Digital radio – coming to a car near you

I noticed earlier this year that NXP had reached a cumulative total of 100 million units shipped of its TEF66xx automotive radio tuner family (with 30 million of them bought by JVC). Obviously, given the volumes, this tuner was based on AM/FM, which has been a marvelously fine broadcast transmission technology for radio for some time now. This made me think of the radio in my car and it occurred to me that was probably time to upgrade to an all-singing-and-dancing digital one with all its increased listening choices – and the choice is certainly impressive. But perhaps I should wait a little longer for my next set of wheels and automatically get an integrated digital radio, which is becoming an increasingly probability.

Ultimately, what drives the attractiveness of a new radio standard is the availability of content. For example, one can take a look at the success of SiriusXM in the US, which has added a huge range of additional audio services. Now also in Europe additional radio stations increase the attractiveness of digital terrestrial radio reception. In the UK, and perhaps the leading market for DAB today, there are approximately 35 additional stations available in London. Germany is also making significant steps, where in Munich for example, the digital radio service count is now more than 50, surpassing the number of analog channels.

So where does the automotive industry stand? Many carmakers are indeed moving ahead and installing digital radios as standard in the UK, but not all and some appear to be considering it as an optional extra at this stage. In terms of implementation, globally speaking, there is a small bundle of digital broadcast standards that will need to be addressed by automakers for their car infotainment systems to support digital terrestrial radio, including: DAB/DAB+/T-DMB (Digital Audio Broadcast) for Europe; DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) mainly for India, currently; and HD-Radio (IBOC – In-Band On-Channel) in the US. The good news for automotive-entertainment OEMs is that chipmakers, including NXP, are coming up with multi-standard and multi-tuner digital radio baseband processors based on SDR (Software Defined Radio) technology, such as NXP’s SAF3560HV and SAF3561HV, significantly speeding time-to market and also reducing complexity for developers. In fact, JVC Kenwood recently launched several nice automotive-aftermarket DAB radios, such as the KDC-BT73D, which use NXP’s SAF3561 DAB processor and feature seamless blending of DAB and FM.

Anyway, for me, the future has to be digital. I guess I’m thinking in particular about all those extra sports channels – particularly for cricket (but then I’m British, so you’ll forgive me please). In Germany, I’m reliably informed that there is an innovative digital service that broadcasts a series of football matches in parallel every Saturday. If that isn’t a good reason for digital radio, then I don’t know what is — although I accept that opinion could see sharp divisions on this point. Anyone out there have a view on the coming future for digital radio?

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