The RDS Forum is the international platform for advances in RDS technology – The next meeting of the RDS Forum is on 20/21 May 2019

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The RDS Forum is a non-profit international professional industry association that has the objective to promote and maintain the RDS technology, which was developed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in the early eighties as an open system to enhance FM broadcasting, primarily to enable automated tuning in mobile FM radio receivers equipped with that then new technology.

Nowadays in 2017, over 30 years later, almost all FM radios in Europe and the USA use RDS. ICs have become available that have an FM receiver and an RDS decoder on the same chip and the price for such a chip, if bought in quantities, is now extremely low, say to give the magnitude, only one Euro. The trend of this price is still falling and the quantity of such chips sold on the world market is still much increasing, now more than one billion units per year. In comparison, the size of the world radio market is just a few billon radio receivers sold each year.

FM/RDS radio is increasingly used in portable devices

Many applications are nowadays within mobile phones and portable devices. The more traditional car radios no longer have a separate RDS decoder IC. RDS decoding is now an integral part of dedicated multi-purpose DSP’s, necessary for the product even without RDS. In these products the RDS function price is then almost zero, as it is done by software only. The performance of an FM/RDS car radio in difficult receiving conditions, like in mountainous regions, where signal reflections and multipath signal propagation are frequent, depends very much on the car radio and antenna design. If very well equipped with multiple tuners and antenna diversity, such an FM car radio is not performing worse than a DAB radio. The least is to say that there is little difference then in reception quality and the audio reproduced by the radio.

The DAB argument that it can out-perform FM with better audio has in the meantime totally lost its value. Nevertheless, digital radio is progressing as many broadcasters and the car industry want to use more and more multimedia options, also using increasingly hybrid radio and audio streaming with the Internet connected car becoming a reality. In this context automatic service following between FM radio, Digital radio and Internet radio is also an objective to be achieved.

RDS helped FM broadcasting to be a really successful technology

It was actually RDS that made FM broadcasting very successful and extremely widespread. The RDS technology can be seen as a 'silent revolution' within FM broadcasting. The RDS technology will therefore most probably live as long as FM broadcasting, which will remain the last hybrid broadcasting technology and of which a likely switch-off is impossible to predict at this time, given the fact that still almost all cars have not yet a digital radio and the main radio reception mode almost everywhere is still FM/RDS. The life-time of a car is nowadays 10 to 15 years. In many new cars the radio is not only an integral part of the dashboard and but also an integral part of a complete infotainment system. An upgrade to digital radio reception in those cars is possible, but not very popular. Therefore FM broadcasting will still be there in 2030 and even later. Any earlier switch-off is just not possible apart from Norway and perhaps Switzerland.

Digital Radio progresses only slowly – but then RDS can well support the transition

The RDS Forum is pro digital radio, even if it maintains FM/RDS. It believes that the transition to digital radio cannot be avoided, even if it will take at least another 10 years to achieve this. Such a long transition makes it very complex for modern car radios to achieve radio service following when the drive is over a large distance and includes neighbouring countries, where the development status of the digital radio network is not advanced. Frequent switching between FM and DAB is then needed, in both directions, and without user intervention hopefully. Not to annoy the end user, broadcasters will have increasingly to use the data features that are common between RDS and DAB, and there are quite just a few. If this is well done, the transition could be smooth and the RDS Forum has already studied all the issues that will facilitate the transition to digital radio and has created corresponding guidelines for the broadcasters and the receiver manufacturers to explain those important issues in detail and encouraged their implementation.

The RDS Forum is a superb contact network

Since many years the RDS Forum offers to the industry, broadcasters, transmission providers and regulators a superb professional contact network. Supporting the transition to digital radio over the next years has been one of the primary issues studied by the Forum for a number of years already. The Forum studied how to link national, regional, sub-regional and local radio programmes best in a hybrid (analogue and digital) radio landscape. Today the RDS technology is in the process of being adapted to what mobile FM/RDS radio receivers need today (e.g. linkage to Internet). Thanks to the high level of expertise of its members and cooperation with other Fora, a huge experience has been built over the last decades.

Now the focus is on RDS2

The focus during 2015 - 2016 was concentrated on RDS2, the innovative RDS enhancement developed by a number of RDS Forum members. The priority was the adaptation of the RDS standard and now in 2017 the UECP, the Universal Encoder Communication Protocol. A first proposal was already demonstrated at the second RDS2 Info Day at Radio France in November 2016.

An RDS2 demo was first presented in a public meeting during the first RDS2 Info Day, held in November 2015 in Berlin, where RDS Forum experts explained to 70 radio professionals from 14 countries from all over the world the new developments and possibilities that RDS2 will be able to offer.

For RDS2, it was explained that it will be necessary to completely re-structure the worldwide RDS standard IEC 62106, an objective being achieved in December 2016 with the submission of the newly updated RDS/RDS2 standard draft from the RDS Forum to the IEC TC 100.