Unified Specification Coming from USADR-Lucent Pact?

A merger announced Wednesday, July 12 by Columbia, Maryland–based USA Digital Radio and Lucent Digital Radio of Warren, New Jersey may hasten the creation of a unified US standard for terrestrial digital radio, according to industry analysts. The merger was approved by the National Radio Systems Committee, which is in charge of developing a set of digital radio specifications for the US. It was also backed by 15 companies involved in the rollout of digital radio, including Viacom Inc.'s Infinity Broadcasting Corp. and Clear Channel Communications, Inc.

The merged company will be known as iBiquity Digital Corporation, and will focus on developing radio technology that will allow digital signals to share bandwidth with existing AM and FM transmissions—a concept known as "in-band on-channel" digital radio, or IBOC. "We believe the combined company will be able to achieve much more quickly what either of us could achieve independently," said Robert Struble, president of USA Digital Radio.

Unlike television broadcasters, who were given new bandwidth for digital transmissions by the Federal Communications Commission, digital radio enterprises are limited to their current spectrum assignments. For consumers, one advantage to the shared-bandwidth approach is that present receivers won't become instantly obsolete. A smooth transition from analog to digital broadcasting is the FCC's hope—something that has not been achieved in the realm of television.

Digital radio satellite broadcasters, promising "CD-quality" audio to a market that will eventually encompass hundreds of millions of listeners, are in a race to get their systems in operation. Sirius Satellite Radio launched it first satellite on June 30, and expects to have two others in orbit by November. In mid-July, competitor XM Satellite Radio Inc. announced that it has received an additional $235 million in venture capital.

In his official announcement of the merger, Struble urged broadcasters and consumer-electronics manufacturers to "focus their efforts on developing programming, content, and product ideas for the coming age of digital broadcasting for radio." Digital satellite radio services are expected to begin next year.