Telematics and the rise of in-car Internet radio, part II

Although Internet radio and terrestrial broadcasting have thus far largely evolved side by side, there are signs that the line is starting to blur. Internet radios like Slacker may eventually offer live content, and a number of terrestrial broadcasters are moving their services closer to online streaming. 

“There are some things that we can do to make radio more attractive and look a bit more like Internet radio,” says Nick Piggott, head of creative technology at the UK’s Global Radio. “We can add visualizations on the radio, so we can make it look as good as Spotify. We can provide information that allows the radio to switch between broadcast and IP. We can provide program information, searchable on demand content … [But] we are not trying to turn radio into an on-demand music service, which we see as primarily replacing CD and not a competition to radio.”

For example, Clear Channel Communications, the leading media company in the United States, has revamped its iHeartRadio, a streaming audio service that now features more than 800 of the nation’s most popular live broadcast and digital-only radio stations from 150 cities as well as social media integration plus user-created custom stations. 

Don’t forget data services

Many terrestrial broadcasters with digital licenses are also starting to leverage the ability of digital broadcast, whether DAB, DAB+ or, in the United States, HD Radio, to deliver data services alongside audio streams. 

Garmin’s nüvi 3490LMT is the first GPS navigator to use HD Radio to receive traffic updates—every 30 seconds. JVC recently launched a car radio that comes with a free lifetime subscription to Clear Channel's Total Traffic+ HD Network service, featuring not only real-time traffic but also news headlines, sports scores and weather updates. Ultimately, James Cridland, a UK-based consultant focused on new radio technology, believes radio will converge around a hybrid platform capable of seamlessly choosing between over-the-air and Internet broadcasts, thus combining the unique strengths of both services and canceling out some of their individual weaknesses. 

Broadcast radio is an undemanding form of entertainment that is cheap, scalable and provides, in its digital form, and a robust data pipe for one-to-many free delivery of content. But it lacks a back channel to relay information back to the broadcaster. Internet radio does have a back channel and provides listeners with the ability to continue listening to their favorite stations long after they left their local radio station’s coverage. But it is difficult to scale and becoming more expansive as wireless carriers move away from unlimited data plans.

Hybrid radio

“The benefit of hybrid radio is that I am not chewing up my Internet bandwidth if I just want to listen to my local station,” Cridland says. “Of course [online audio streaming services] will say that Internet radio will replace FM. I have to say, we are not really seeing any major switch from FM over onto the Internet and I think, realistically, it doesn’t work too well. You know what it’s like trying to get a sensible Internet connection when you are stuck in a traffic jam or when you are at a football game.”

In the UK, more than 100 radio stations are already using RadioDNS, an open-source hybrid radio technology, to deliver clickable visuals that lead to more information on the Internet. This is possible thanks to a unique set of identifiers that travel with the broadcast signal and tell enabled receivers where to find additional content online. 

The first device to launch with RadioDNS was PURE’s Sensia, a portable digital FM and Internet radio. Since Sensia’s 2009 launch, RadioDNS has been incorporated into a number of other devices, including AXiS, a multi-standard digital and Internet radio produced by Revo. But it has yet to become part of any car receivers.

Multiple delivery channels

RadioDNS has demonstrated automatic switching between broadcast radio and IP streaming on a mobile phone, calling it “the most obvious demonstration so far of how the project can use IP in a way that complements broadcast radio, rather than competes against it.” This summer Global Radio plans to roll out RadioTAG, another RadioDNS feature that makes it possible for listeners to take a digital snapshot of whatever they are listening to—be it a song they like or an ad—and have it delivered to their mobile phone or email account for later consideration, a feature that could be particularly useful in cars as it implies little distraction.

Providing multiple delivery channels with a certain amount of overlap and redundancy may actually be a necessity in the car due to gaps in coverage that not only affect cellular networks but also FM and digital broadcast. “It makes sense to put in as many pipes as you can to get the content to the consumer,” says Jeffrey P. Jury, executive vice president and chief operating officer of iBiquity Digital Corporation, the developer and licensor of HD Radio technology. “We see a lot of car companies starting to look at it that way. Having these multiple pipes allows you to pull the data maybe from several different sources, maybe do back-up channels and provide the best possible experience.” (To read the first part in this series, see Telematics and the rise of in-car Internet radio, part I.)

Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on Internet radio, visit Content & Apps for Automotive 2012 on April 18-19 in Germany.

For more all the latest telematics trends, visit V2X Safety & Mobility 2012 USA on March 20-21 in Novi, MI, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2012 on March 26-27 in Amsterdam, Insurance Telematics Europe 2012 on May 9-10 in London, Telematics Detroit 2012 on June 6-7, and Insurance Telematics USA 2012 in September in Chicago.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports on In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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