Mainland tipped to outpace rivals in HD radio race

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2007, 12:00am

IBiquity Digital, a United States-based developer of digital high-definition radio technology, predicts mainland companies will produce more HD radio products at the expense of Taiwanese and South Korean rivals due to the nature of the technology and lower costs.

'The technology is an advanced system and relatively new, so not many manufacturers have experience with it,' said iBiquity chief operating officer Jeffery Jury.

'But we have been impressed with how quickly many of our mainland manufacturing partners have been able to quickly ramp up with the technology and related products.'

IBiquity, formed five years ago by the merger of USA Digital Radio and Lucent Digital Radio, has licensed its technology to about 60 firms, including Sony Corp of Japan and Samsung of Korea to produce radio modules, components, receivers and tuners.

The manufacturing was initially outsourced mainly to Taiwanese and Korean radio makers. This has shifted since to mainland manufacturers such as Dongguan-based Hip Shing Electronics and Hong Kong-listed Tonic Industries Holdings.

'During the past year, we have been working closely with mainland partners to double our total manufacturing capacity for HD radio products,' said Mr Jury. 'We put a lot of effort into working with companies in Shenzhen, Dongguan and Hong Kong.'

The company has a certification centre in Hong Kong to run quality checks on the mainland products.

IBiquity aims to create an in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio system, or simply HD radio, for the US.

In 2002, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) selected IBOC as the standard for digital audio broadcasting domestically.

The technology is used to provide traffic updates and text information and allows radio stations to simulcast MP3-quality audio and traditional analogue audio without the need of new frequency bands.

If the FCC decides to discontinue analogue radio in the future, HD radio can provide extra features such as surround sound and near CD-quality audio effect.

HD radio technology, applied in 1,500 radio stations to cover more than 80 per cent of the US population, is being or has been tested in many other markets, including Hong Kong, Argentina, Canada, France, Mexico, New Zealand and Thailand.

'We are starting to see a number of other countries, such as Brazil, start HD radio broadcasts. Obviously, the largest market is China,' said Mr Jury. 'We recently met Beijing officials to discuss HD radio rollout in the mainland.'

Until now, there is no timetable for Hong Kong and the mainland to launch HD radio services.

Hong Kong government-owned radio broadcaster RTHK, which started to develop HD radio or digital audio broadcasting (DAB) in 2004, ran trial broadcasts through stations based in Mount Gough on Hong Kong Island and Castle Peak in the New Territories in November last year. No announcements have been made since the tests were finished in May.

IBiquity recently launched a module to support iPod products which can provide iTunes tagging services.

Tuned in

Mainland factories have been quick to catch on

The number of companies iBiquity licenses to make HD radio in Asia: 60