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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Fears for new digital radio system
By Chris McWhinnie
BBC Monitoring in Amsterdam

Plans to offer the internet using mains electricity cables could cause so much interference that new digital radio stations could be obliterated, a broadcasting conference has been told.

DRM radio set
A consumer DRM digital radio set will be in the shops next year
The warning came from Peter Senger, the chair of the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.

DRM is a standard agreed by world broadcasters for a completely new short wave radio system

The new internet power line distribution system has been evaluated by engineers, including the BBC, and has been found to affect short wave in particular.

Short wave is mainly used to broadcast internationally and the AM bands have been used since radio first started in the 1920s.

The DRM system uses existing AM broadcast frequencies to deliver near-FM quality digital sound.

It uses compression to squeeze clear digital sound into the narrow radio channels that currently carry crackly analogue signals.

The DRM technology has the potential to make digital radio available in places that Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio or even FM will probably never reach.

As for the hardware required to hear these stations, there will be a new consumer DRM radio in the shops by Christmas 2005 and a tiny PC-only DRM set is already on sale.

Testing times

DRM is not being used by many radio stations yet. However a number of radio stations have seen the potential for new cross-border radio stations.

A Germany-based music station is believed to be in the planning stages. BBC World Service and its counterparts abroad already have some regular DRM programmes and are backing the system.

DRM is being seriously considered in many countries where the FM radio band is full. China sees DRM as the answer to pushing digital radio across its vast territory.

The UK is not planning to use DRM for domestic radio. The UK has pinned its digital hopes instead on DAB, which offers stations like BBC 1Xtra, 6 Music, Oneword and Core. More digital radios have been sold in the UK than any other country.

Switching-off analogue FM and AM may take years and making millions of much-loved analogue radio sets useless will no doubt be controversial.

If power line internet transmission is introduced, then international broadcasting on shortwave may also be consigned to history due to the interference from data travelling over mains electricity cables.

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