DRM – The Digital Future of FM
What is DRM – Digital Radio Mondiale?
The DRM terrestrial radio broadcasting standard has been created by broadcasters for
broadcasters. It has been designed specifically as a high quality digital replacement for
current analogue radio broadcasting in all the frequency bands, the AM as well as the
FM/VHF bands; as such it can be operated with the same channelling and spectrum
allocations as the former analogue transmissions. The simulcast option allows for a smooth
transition from analogue FM and MW to an all-digital DRM broadcast.
The DRM standard comprises two operating modes:
a. ‘DRM30’ configurations, which are specifically designed for the AM broadcast bands
below 30 MHz, and
b. ‘DRM+’ configurations, which serve the spectrum above 30 MHz up to and including
VHF band III, centred on the FM broadcast band II.
These modes optimize DRM’s baseband (COFDM) parameters for each supported
broadcast frequency, while all service layer functionality relevant to listeners is identically
available for all broadcast bands.
DRM has received the recommendations from the ITU for worldwide deployment, hence
providing the international regulatory support for transmissions to take place. DRM also
benefits from being an open standard. All manufacturers and interested parties have free
access to the complete technical specifications and are able to design and manufacture
equipment on an equitable basis.
Why go Digital with DRM?
The introduction of DRM services in the FM bands allows a broadcaster to provide listeners
with significant improvements in service reliability, audio quality and, most importantly,
usability, i.e. those features that enhance the listener experience. This includes advanced
data application such as DRM Text Messages, Journaline advanced text with listener
interactivity and geo-referenced information, Slideshow, EPG, TPEG/TMC etc. Listeners no
longer need to select bands or memorise frequencies, but conveniently pick their service
from the list of available stations by label; it is then the receiver’s task to automatically select
the best available reception method for the selected service, and to switch to alternative
frequencies and even broadcast standards once the listener leaves the coverage area.
How does DRM fit with DAB(+)?
DRM and DAB are similar (but not identical) standards that provide listeners with an
equivalent radio experience. DRM and DAB programmes are selectable from the receiver’s
service list. Both standards are open (with full and free access to all technical specifications),
hosted by ETSI and ITU recommended for worldwide adoption. Data applications are shared
and identical, from DRM Text Messages/DAB Dynamic Labels to Journaline, Slideshow,
EPG, TPEG, etc.
Both standards deploy the MPEG AAC audio codec (however DRM is the only standard to
have adopted the most modern audio codec xHE-AAC), they share the basic baseband
modulation scheme (COFDM), and provide full service cross-linking between analogue
AM/FM and the digital DRM and DAB(+) transmissions for automatic service following.
These similarities allow for efficient multi-standard receiver and chipset implementations, as
current developments from many manufacturers prove – including latest solutions from
The core differences between DRM and DAB are:
a. DRM+ fits with the current band-II channelization (100 kHz bandwidth), whereas DAB is a
multiplex solution requiring roughly 1500 kHz bandwidth for the transmission signal.
As a consequence, the DAB standard forces broadcasters to either fill a multiplex (with
roughly 16 services on one transmitter) on their own or share the platform with other
broadcasters, while DRM allows broadcasters to stay in control of their own broadcast
infrastructure (offering a small multiplex of 1—3 audio programmes plus data services). For
the distribution of individual radio stations in small heterogeneous coverage areas with a few
programme offerings, the transmission capacity of DAB is far too high. As the transmission
capacity cannot be completely filled, such use is not frequency efficient for DAB broadcasts.
Furthermore, for the supply of the same coverage area, the lower bandwidth and fewer
channels of DRM+ means that it needs only about 10% radiated transmitter power compared
to DAB, which implies a substantial economic advantage for DRM+.
b. a reduction in infrastructure costs could be achieved, if the broadcaster operated the
transmitters itself. An initial comparison between the distribution costs of DRM+ and DAB
shows that with the distribution of only one, two or three programmes, the total network
costs for distribution within a given coverage area are substantially lower with DRM+
than with DAB.
c. While the DAB multiplex of 1.5 MHz is transmitted in VHF band III (or L-band), the DRM
signal fits with the current AM and FM channelisation (4.5 to 20 kHz bandwidth in the AM
bands, 96 kHz bandwidth in the FM band or VHF band III) and can be rolled out in simulcast
mode (efficiently enhancing existing AM/FM services and transmission infrastructure with a
digital component during the transition period). Besides the FM band-II, DRM+ also supports
band-III transmissions, where a single DAB frequency slot (with a common coverage area for
all contained services) is split into 15 DRM+ transmission frequency assignments with
individual coverage areas and optionally shared transmitter infrastructure.
Therefore both the DRM and DAB standard could be considered simultaneously for national
adoption and must NOT be seen as mutually exclusive options, as the two standards
combined provide complementing solutions and thus allow each broadcaster to choose its
most efficient and most cost effective transmission mechanism for satisfying its coverage
Listeners of DRM broadcasts now enjoy also the benefits of the newly available audio codec
xHE-AAC, with excellent, undistorted sound. Please see the reference to this below.
Modern radio chipsets support both DRM and DAB+ simultaneously, which combined with
identical service layer components such as data applications, make multi-standard receiver
implementations efficient and almost automatic.
So the choice between DRM and DAB+ should be based exclusively on individual coverage
needs and infrastructure cost-efficiency considerations.
Depending on the broadcasters’ needs, a simple decision making path to be considered
before opting for a DRM (DRM30/DRM+) and/or DAB+ transmission infrastructure could
therefore look like this:
1. Wide-area/national/international coverage required?
If YES, then DRM (DRM30)
If NO (local/regional coverage only) then please go to question 2
2. VHF band III frequencies available?
If NO, then DRM (DRM+)
If YES, then please go to question 3
3. Upgrade of current FM transmitter equipment / single-transmitter-simulcast
(with FM) desired?
If YES, then DRM (DRM+)
If NO (new transmitter infrastructure needed), then please go to question 4
4. Broadcasters need/want to stay in control over their own transmitter
infrastructure (just like with FM)?
If YES, then DRM (DRM+)
If NO (OK to have outsourced infrastructure), please go to question 5
5. Limited number of services with identical coverage area (less than 10)?
If YES, then DRM (DRM+)
If NO (more like 10-20 services), then please go to question 6
6. Broadcasters agree on a common platform operation (i.e. often a third party
service provider with revenue goals)?
If YES, then DAB+
If NO, then DRM (DRM+)
DRM for the FM/VHF bands offers an attractive package of benefits
Advanced listener services
a. DRM offers advanced services, revolutionising the radio experience for the next
generations of listeners:
convenient service selection by station label – gone is the need to memorize and
manually select bands and frequencies
better-than-FM audio quality with optional 5.1 MPEG Surround sound
a range of standardized data applications such as DRM Text Messages, Journaline
advanced text, Slideshow, EPG, TPEG traffic updates, etc.
all DRM text content (service labels, Text Messages, Journaline) is Unicode based,
thus supporting all languages and scripts worldwide
b. DRM is the first global digital radio standard to embrace the most advanced MPEG
audio codec, xHE-AAC, which is the first audio codec to combine speech and generalpurpose audio coding in a unified system. This allows for high quality delivery of any
type of audio content at very low bit rate. xHE-AAC is a superset of HE-AAC v2, which
remains part of the DRM standard as well.
c. DRM provides built-in AFS functionality (Automatic Frequency Checking & Switching),
allowing a receiver to stay tuned to the selected service even if the listener leaves the
coverage area of the current transmission. The DRM AFS functionality also integrates
services transmitted on analogue AM and FM, as well as DAB(+), just as DAB(+)
transmissions cross-link to DRM services.
d. DRM, as the only global ‘all frequency bands’ digital radio standard, natively supports
emergency alert signalling for immediate mass-notification in case of impeding
disasters (EWF – DRM Emergency Warning Feature). DRM receivers are triggered to
automatically re-tune to the emergency transmission (including optional auto-switch-on),
while flashing the screen and increasing audio volume. The emergency programme
combines audio content with detailed multi-lingual text instructions (Journaline), thus serving
hearing-impaired listeners and those speaking different languages. DRM EWF benefits from
DRM’s capability of covering affected areas from outside (e.g. using it’s long-distance AM
Transmission network efficiency and cost savings
e. DRM transmissions can carry up to 3 radio programmes along with data services on a
single frequency – either allowing for more diversified offerings, or drastically reducing the
amount of dedicated FM transmitter networks and thus installation/maintenance/running cost
for a given set of programmes.
f. DRM gives full control to broadcasters over their own broadcast infrastructure
(studios, transmitters, antennas). Broadcasters therefore do not need to rely on possibly
expensive services of third parties (multiplex operators) or share the operational facilities with
other broadcasters, thus potentially opening the door for competitors. Being in full control of
their own infrastructure and transmissions, broadcasters ensure that their costs are not going
up but could even get reduced substantially.
g. DRM can utilise the existing transmission infrastructure of a broadcaster, such as
transmitters and antennas, which may only need some modifications and/or upgrades for
digital broadcasting. Only a few digital transmitters can cover an entire country or large
geographical area, unlike hundreds of transmitters which today are needed for FM or
equivalent digital broadcasts. Digital DRM transmitters are significantly more energy efficient
than analogue ones and allow for massive operational savings.
h. DRM supports single-frequency network operation (SFN) to serve a region or even the
whole country on a single broadcast frequency for optimized listener coverage.
i. DRM is available to digitise VHF band I, band II (the FM band) and also band III.
Depending on the local regulations, there might not even be the need to have a change in
broadcast licencing; therefore broadcasters can be on air very quickly by providing more
efficient services to their listeners.
1. DRM is a perfect standard for digitising FM services, keeping broadcasters in full control of
their transmission infrastructure and optimized for the broadcast’s individual coverage needs.
DRM’s advanced features revolutionize the radio experience for listeners, allowing
broadcasters to develop new revenue streams and to intensify listener engagement.
2. DRM for the FM band is a complementary solution to DAB(+) multiplex networks, including
full service linking. Receiver and chipset manufacturers are ready with combined multistandard receiver solutions.
3. Successful DRM+ trials have been supported for the past few years in Germany, UK,
India, the Vatican, Norway, Sri Lanka, Brazil and France ( in bands I, II and III). Currently
there is a DRM+ trial going on in Sweden.
4. Now is the time for radio broadcasters to form their own opinion by evaluating DRM
and its benefits. The DRM Consortium and its members along with major domestic receiver
chipset companies are ready to support local trials.
Please contact us by sending an email to: [email protected]
For further information, please visit our website: www.drm.org and stay up-to-date on latest
DRM developments around the globe through our newsletters: www.drm.org/?page_id=320
The recently updated DRM Introduction & Implementation Guide (DIG) provides an
efficient functionality overview and particularly focusses on the benefits of DRM for
broadcasters. The document is available as a free download from the DRM web site: