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Why the internet won't replace radio broadcasting any time soon, reason number 85

As one mobile phone company admits it has problems coping with the amount of mobile data we use, the benefits of broadcast are ever clearer

"They've sorted all the bandwidth issues out, and they'll do it again," said an optimistic man at the International Radio Festival in Zurich this week, when discussing whether radio is going to move wholly onto the internet and stop using broadcasting (FM, DAB, etc).

So, it's interesting seeing the problems that GiffGaff are in.

Now, if you've not heard of GiffGaff, they're a mobile phone network in the UK - an "MVNO" who, like Virgin Mobile or Tesco Mobile, buy their mobile coverage at wholesale rates from one of the physical network operators, like O2 or whatever Orange is called these days.

GiffGaff offer unlimited internet for £10. At the moment. But they can't afford to continue to do that.

A presentation from the company is pretty frank about the problems they have. "As we all start using the mobile internet more, GiffGaff's wholesale bills are growing, creating an increasingly untenable situation", they say.

Their presentation goes into a number of options in terms of how they'll be forced to increase their prices; and also manage that traffic better (particularly, stop people from tethering their phones and mess about with video quality).

But, if you're a user of GiffGaff, the days of unlimited data for £10 a month are coming to a close. (They're the only mobile operator who offers unlimited data at that price point anyway).

What's this got to do with radio? Simply that, unlike any streaming radio apps, broadcast radio doesn't use bandwidth. With RadioDNS hybrid radio apps on your phone, that use IP and FM/DAB together to provide an app-like user experience for broadcast radio, radio's future is particularly bright. And should Apple, or Pandora, ever launch their 'radio' service in the UK, they'll have to cope with the ever increasing problems of "unlimited data" that is increasingly showing itself to be impossible to offer while maintaining a viable service.

You might also like: Why Apple (or Pandora) won't launch in the UK, and why Pandora is not radio anyway. Oh, and lots more reasons why the internet won't solve everything.

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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Recommendations: 0
Calder Jon

I disagree – a 128k stream isn’t a lot of bandwidth but notwithstanding that, WiFi is spreading far and wide – you can even get it in McDonalds for free!

So the mobile radio listener has two options – 3/4G and WiFi. You don’t touch upon the WiFi option in this article?

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland

Calder: wifi hotspots don’t help deliver a quality mobile stream. (And 128kbps is, from bitter experience, not always possible on free hotspots like McDonalds, Starbucks or Costa.) In actual fact, a plethora of wifi hotspots make reliable mobile reception harder, not easier – walk past a McDonald’s on your mobile phone, and your 3G connection will disappear and be replaced with nothing more than The Cloud’s login screen. Essentially, if you’ve ever connected before to them, your device automatically connects to the wifi signal, cutting off your 3G signal, and waits for you to log in – even if it’s in your pocket.

The mobile radio listener actually has three options – mobile data (4G doesn’t fix anything here either, and even 3G is still spotty), wifi as long as they’re not actually “mobile”, and FM/DAB built into their mobiles. Only the last of these is guaranteed to work (within a transmission area).

If you’ve ever tried sending a tweet while in a football stadium, you’ll know how ridiculous it is to claim that 3G can be seen as a full replacement to broadcast radio. Radio is a multiplatform medium, and the right platform differs depending on where a listener is, what the reception conditions are like, and what the station broadcasts on in the first place. To claim otherwise is short-sighted, and betting an entire industry on a woefully inadequate technology.

Recommendations: 0
Radio Birdsong

Some Number Crunching:
The latest RAJAR reports BBC listening to be 561m hours a week, and the BBC’s DAB share to be 23.4%. That gives BBC DAB a figure of 131m hours per week, or 6.824 billion listener hours per year. Taking all the BBC’s local and national DAB transmission costs together, a reasonably well founded figure puts this at £8-10m annually – let’s say £9m.
So how many listener hours can the BBC deliver for £1.00? The answer is 758 hours. Or one DAB listener-hour costs the BBC £0.0013 to deliver almost anywhere in the UK, including, crucially, mobile listening.
Of course you pay for this via the BBC licence fee, so one hour’s digital radio data costs you/the BBC just 00.13pence. (Incidentally, this data at 128kbit/s is a throughput to each listener of 57MB per hour.)

Now, contrast that with the cost of listening to radio using a mobile phone data package to achieve the same thing. Whilst 500MB per month is the data package norm in the UK, let’s be generous and double that to 1GB. Let’s also assume mobile phone listening uses AAC at 64kbit/s (including all IP data overhead). And let’s assume all that costs on average just £10. This buys you 34.7 hours of radio listening, which works out at £0.29 per hour of listening via a mobile phone. A factor of 218 times more than it costs via the licence fee to listen to the BBC on mobile DAB.

This illustrates the compelling economic efficiency of broadcasting compared to mobile phones.

“Why the mobile internet won’t replace DAB radio broadcasting any time soon, reason number 86”

Recommendations: 0
Paul JaYmes

Ah yes James, your favourite topic ;-)

So here’s my favourite response: the future is not going to be (all) about delivering pre-produced continuous streams of audio (or indeed video) to consumers.

Let me paint the picture in a different way from before. Take any popular commercial music station. The station produces an app for all popular mobile and tablet platforms – and hell, why not windows phone too ;-) – this app is both wi-fi and mobile data aware. Maybe it even understands how much bandwidth is currently available via these connections.

When connected to wi-fi, it downloads and updates the station’s playlist – the music – in a cache on the device. It also downloads a roster of ads, sweepers, beds, inane chat, non-time-critical audio segments and a schedule algorithm for all of it.

When disconnected from wi-fi, it can still use all this content to create a radio station with no data bandwidth requirement. This will work on the tube, on a plane, on a scuba dive or in Antarctica. No drop-outs, no swishing, no burbling. And when available, it can also connect using mobile data and search for smaller, timely bits of data. The news, the weather, topical links, which in can download and incorporate into the stream.

Take this further, there are new features that could be made available to the listener – listener doesn’t like a particular track? They can exclude it and it never gets played again. Equally if they don’t care about the travel news, or the weather, or the ‘community update’. But they’re still listening to the station 100% of the time via the app. Listener wants to include their own music from their device in the stream the app creates? No problem. User wants to merge two stations from your group’s portfolio? Maybe the music from one and the news from another? Easy.

And you could add broadcasting technology to the above mix. You could use DAB, or some other digital platform, to deliver some or all of the small timely chunks of audio content to the app. And that would be efficient. But it wouldn’t be essential.

Recommendations: 0
Daniel Thornton

I agree that streaming radio on a mobile device isn’t a replacement for radio broadcasting.

But it doesn’t need to be.

On a Sunday evening I generally download around 5+ hours of podcasts which cover every car and train journey, plus the time I spend doing the washing up. It takes about 30 seconds to do, and means I can listen to the shows I want, when I want.

The streaming functionality in mobile phone applications is really for you to be mobile around your house, or occasionally to let you stream something you can’t miss (e.g. live football), or to allow you to share the content with your friends for sampling.

It isn’t intended for 12 hours a day of streaming a station.

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