Hybrid Radio and the Smartphone

Nick Piggott,

A challenge for hybrid radio is how to bring together broadcast radio and internet connectivity and integrate them properly into a single device.

The Connected Car concept will soon make IP connectivity a reality in many cars, thus bringing IP and the car-radio next to each other in the dashboard. We’re working with car manufacturers to link the two together to create hybrid radio.

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Smartphones are the personal device of choice for many people, replacing their phone, diary, contacts list, camera, and – inevitably – their MP3 player and radio. They’re capable, connected devices but they lack radio functionality (or have poorly implemented and inaccessible functionality). In the absence of broadcast radio, people are using streaming radio apps to listen to radio.

Streaming on the move is difficult to get right. Networks are congested, coverage can be patchy, and there’s a limit to how much you can buffer live streams to work around those transients. It’s heavy on the battery, and it’s heavy on data consumption too. Whilst some providers still offer ‘unlimited’ data, others are more clearly setting limits on users data (1GB, 2GB?). The danger is that a consumer given a data limit, however big it may feel, will start to make choices on what they use, and radio could fall out of that choice; how does an average consumer know how much data their monthly listening is?

There’s no fundamental technology problem with implementing radio, be that FM, DAB, DAB+ or HD Radio, into a smartphone. What has been lacking is the interest from consumers and manufacturers.

Now a group of broadcasters from the US, Europe and Asia-Pac have got together in a new project to standardise integration of radio into the smartphone. The project will tackle all the problems that are stopping radio being widely integrated in smartphones, including standardising APIs for radio, establishing standards for content provision by broadcasters, and engaging with silicon providers, network operators and manufacturers to explain the benefits of broadcast radio.

Establishing standard APIs for radio makes it easy for app-writers to include radio in their apps, without having to understand the intricacies of each different system (FM, DAB, HD etc.). It would be possible for existing radio station apps to use radio in preference to streaming, and for manufacturers to dramatically improve their stock radio apps to be as good as streaming apps. It’s got the potential to be very exciting for radio.

The members of the group will reveal themselves over the coming weeks, but they certainly have the size, smarts and conviction to make this happen. We’re really looking forward to working with them to integrate hybrid functionality, which will make a great experience of broadcast radio ‘like an app’.