Just as we entered this century, traditional radio services were entering a new era of digital radio broadcasting. Now, a few years later, the emergence of digital satellite and terrestrial radio has given audiophiles better sound quality and more choices in terms of programming. Digital, in fact, has revolutionized the radio world. As though that was not enough, since then developers have readied digital multimedia broadcast and digital mobile TV protocols to give carmakers, as well as car owners, more choices for entertainment and information while driving to their destination. Thus, making the right choice for your vehicle is becoming a challenging task for all. That means OEMs, suppliers and buyers are in the same predicament. “This year will bring a significant level of confusion to electronics consumers,” according to Frank Viquez, ABI Research's director of transportation research. “In North America for example, not only will XM Satellite Radio, Sirius Satellite Radio and HD Radio receivers be readily accessible, but new multimedia broadcasting services such as Qualcomm's MediaFLO service and Crown Castle's Modeo DVB-H service will be available as well. In Europe, no fewer than three competing firms are vying to launch their own satellite radio services in the near future.”
A similar dilemma also exists in other parts of the world. Several emerging digital broadcasting standards are causing consumers confusion in Asia. For instance, in Korea, the launches of terrestrial and satellite-based digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) services have consumers scratching their heads as to which devices they should buy, the ABI Research report states. Likewise, in Europe, digital audio broadcasting's (DAB) lack of pan-European support has opened the door for competitors such as WorldSpace, ONDAS Media and Europa-Max to ready their respective satellite radio services for launch in the region.
Besides confusing the car buyers, this plethora of digital radio and TV protocols is also baffling the automakers and their suppliers. The electronics design cycle is approximately 18 to 24 months, while the automotive design cycle is five years. Automakers need to know in advance which digital radio protocols they need to support and which they can leverage for their own objectives. In fact, according to ABI Research, automotive suppliers are in a more difficult position, as they need to support most of these protocols and be ready to produce hardware as demanded by their OEM clients. The problem is compounded when they have to deliver products to the automotive aftermarket and need to anticipate potential customer demand, as well.
Presently, each camp is offering its own radio solution to the market. In the interest of OEMs, suppliers and buyers, it is time to think on the lines of a common solution that is good for all. Service providers can differentiate their products via service, quality, cost and other such factors. Consequently, it is time now to start thinking of a single receiver that can handle multiple standards and can be upgraded with software or tuned to a specific protocol with software. Hence, it is time to focus on software radio. In fact, software-defined radio (SDR) is here and has the capability to handle such complex tasks, and deliver what is needed in the auto industry. It will be welcomed by the OEMs and the buyers worldwide. Barriers to SDR implementation have been alleviated. And, DSP processors, ASICs and FPGAS along with requisite algorithms have evolved to permit its implementation. It is time for the developers to come together and hammer out a single digital radio receiver design that will be easier on the dashboard.