Digital terrestrial radio is to be launched in Japan, five years ahead of schedule - but lagging the UK by several years.

The new service is expected to be available in the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka as early as next year, with a nationwide rollout by 2011, according to a report by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) - which is funded by the receiving fee paid by each household with a TV set - and a new company will provide the digital service, consisting of between 20 and 30 channels specializing in music or sports.

The new company, which will own broadcast facilities and is likely to be a joint venture between radio stations, receiver manufacturers, telecoms firms and trading houses, will not produce original programs but receive content from existing broadcasters.

The communications ministry plans to license four other digital radio service providers, two national broadcasters and two regional broadcasters in or after 2011.

Digital terrestrial television was introduced into central areas of Japan's three largest cities in 2003. It is likely to be available to around 80% of households by 2006.

Data sourced from Asahi Shimbun Online; additional content by WARC staff