Cambridge Consultants design a prototype $10 DRM receiver

DRM broadcast (left) as seen via a KiwiSDR spectrum display.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael Bird, who shares the following news via Cambridge Consultants:

Digital launched, ever so long ago, with TV and radio. So what’s the big story? It’s that the last piece of the digital jigsaw is finally in place: a system called Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), designed to deliver FM-radio-like quality using the medium wave and short wave bands.

We’re familiar with AM on medium wave and accustomed to the horrible buzz, splat, fade away and back again. But it does have a great advantage in that it will reach for hundreds of miles from a single transmitter. That’s a lot easier than FM or DAB, which both need transmitters every 30 or 40 miles. No fewer than 443 DAB transmitter sites are needed to cover the UK alone.

So take a modern digital scheme, apply some clever (and low cost) computing power, and you can get good sound for hundreds of miles. You get to choose radio stations by name instead of kilohertz, and you can even receive text and pictures. Emergency warning and information features are also built into DRM.

Great technology. But will it fly? Is it available for everyone?

The new news is that India, through its national broadcaster All India Radio, has invested in and rolled out a national DRM service, live today. Just 35 transmitters cover that large country. New cars in India have DRM radios in them now. Other countries like South Africa, Malaysia and Brazil are likely to follow India’s lead.

But something’s missing. The radios that can receive DRM are still prohibitively expensive, especially for those markets that would benefit most. So vast swathes of the world remain unconnected to the services that DRM can provide. Where’s the cheap portable that you can pick up from a supermarket to listen to the news or sport?

Cambridge Consultants has just held its annual Innovation Day, where we throw open our doors to industry leaders and reveal future technology. One of our highlights was the prototype of a DRM design that will cost ten dollars or less to produce, addressing that vital need for information by the 60-ish per cent of our global population that doesn’t have internet or TV. It’s low power, so can run from solar or wind-up.

This design will be ready in 2020, available for any radio manufacturer to licence and incorporate into its own products. We’re doing our bit to make affordable radios for every corner of the globe!

Click here to read this post at the Cambridge Consultants website.

Michael also shares this piece from Radio World regarding this project.

I must admit: there have been so many proposed low-cost DRM receiver designs that never came to fruition, it’s easy to be skeptical. I assume the $10/9 Euro design will be for the receiver chip only–not the full portable radio, of course. They plan to bring this to fruition in 2020, so we’ll soon know if they succeed.

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4 thoughts on “Cambridge Consultants design a prototype $10 DRM receiver

  1. Laurence N.

    My prediction is the following:
    This chip: Will cost $10 to make. In batches of fifty thousand. If existing machines are available at no cost. The design will be ready in late 2020.
    The developers: Will license their chip to a manufacturer, requiring an extra royalty per unit manufactured. The manufacturer will only agree after a lot of checking and negotiating, sometime around September of 2021.
    The manufacturer: Can make the chip for $12 each in the batch size they decide they want to. That will be figured out by November 2021.
    The manufacturer: The rest of the case, antenna, and interface will cost $8 to make. Design for that will be completed in April 2022.
    The manufacturer: Interface programmers will be hired to write the software for the machine, increasing the per-unit cost. Final manufacturing cost will end up around $30 per unit. This will be in June of 2022.
    The manufacturer: Will set a wholesale price of $39 and make an initial batch of five thousand. After all, it’s cheaper than any other DRM device and they don’t know that it will be popular. Wholesale batches will go on sale in July of 2022.
    A reseller: Will start to resell at $59, from China. August 2022.
    A more professional reseller: Will quickly buy these up and once again resell, now at $79, also from China. They need to check on a few things, so August-October will be spent in a limbo position where it looks like the radio can’t be purchased.
    A buyer: Hey, they said $79. Why did that convert to €76.53?
    A buyer: You’re telling me that’s €76.53 for the device and €9.19 for shipping too?
    Buyer: Eventually receives the device, and finds it to be badly constructed. “Well, the chip should be cheap to make, so there will probably be more attempts. Some of those are bound to be better.”
    Another manufacturer: “We’d like to license the chip from you, please.”
    The developers: “Unfortunately, we had to give a monopoly on our chip to the first manufacturer in order for anyone to actually build something. Sorry about that.”
    I’m ready to be proven wrong. I’d really like a DRM receiver for relatively cheap, and if we want DRM to get used, we’ll need one. But I’ve seen far too many people claiming to have the necessary technology and completely failing to demonstrate that for me to believe them this time.

    1. RonF

      That’s a lot of words to say “it’ll be as successful as the last one” 😉

      How is Starwaves going these days, anyway?

  2. Mangosman

    I live in a DAB+ country. To select programs you have an alphabetically sorted list with numbers first.
    The receivers also have an info display which shows the tuned frequency which is between 174 – 230 MHz. Remember sith DAB+ and DRM is that they can transmit more than one audio stream on the tuned frequency.
    Most existing simulcast broadcasters identify themselves by frequency and name and often include the abbreviation of FM despite the fact that digital modes do not use Frequency Modulation. Newer digital only broadcasters commonly do not use a call sign in the conventional sense but instead use a name appropriate to the program content.`

    Digital systems standards include the latitude and longitude of the transmitter, however with networking, studios can be a long way from the transmitter.

  3. Edward

    But suppose I want to hear a particular Frequency rather than a particular Call-sign? Will Digital Radio Mundane let me do this?


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