A Secret Radio Inside Your Phone?
Remember the good old days when cell phones included FM radio receivers? Well, most modern mobile phones still do, but you can’t use them. Why is this handy feature, which can provide free music even when you can’t get cellular signal, disabled and hidden? Read on to learn the reason...
FM Tuners In Mobile Phones
Blame it on the carriers, not the hardware makers who still include the FM circuitry in their phones. The carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and others) are the manufacturers' customers, and the carriers want the phones they sell to consumers to have those FM radios disabled.
Why? It's pretty simple… carriers prefer streaming (online) “radio” services because they make money on data traffic, but none on over-the-air FM.
Apple, Samsung, and LG are among the OEMs who have disabled the FM radio chips in their phones. But not all phone makers are playing along. HTC, Motorola, and Blackberry have not.
Among U. S. carriers, only Sprint has enabled FM radio on phones connected to its network. So FM will work on FM-enabled phones sold by mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that are effectively Sprint resellers, e. g., Republic Wireless, Helio, and others. Virgin Mobile USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sprint and uses Sprint’s network, so FM radio will work on Virgin Mobile if the phone’s FM chip is enabled.
The National Association of Broadcasters wants FM chips enabled, of course. The NAB even developed an app for iOS and Android, called NextRadio, that provides real-time stations and program listings; one-tap feedback to stations; the ability to buy selected songs; bookmarking and history lists for finding favorite or recently played stations; and other interactive features.
The NextRadio App site has a list of supported devices (currently 26) and carriers who support FM radio (Sprint, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, and more). No Apple devices are supported, but several Samsung products are, apparently at Sprint’s insistence; you have to buy one from Sprint, Virgin Mobile USA, or Boost Mobile USA, another wholly-owned Sprint subsidiary.
Why FM is Better Than Streaming Music
Consumers can benefit from FM radio in several ways. First, "Listening to streaming (music) drains your battery three to five times faster than listening to the exact same content on the FM chip," according to Jeff Smulyan is CEO of Emmis Communications, which owns radio stations across the USA. Emmis now owns the NextRadio app, too.
They didn't have apps or Web access, but they did have music! So clearly, this is not a technology problem.
Second, streaming music eats up one’s data allowance. I see many people plugged into earbuds constantly, and wonder what their data bill looks like at month’s end. FM radio could conserve data just as VoiP calling over WiFi conserves cellular network minutes.
Third, FM radio might be your only source of information during an emergency. Of course, both the cellular and fixed-base Internet networks would have to be disrupted or overlaoded, but you never know. Superstorm Sandy and the North American derecho storm, both in 2012, overloaded cellular networks and shut down power to many routers.
The carriers are being completely disingenuous about FM radio. Responding to the NAB’s call for the FM chips to be activated in all phones, Jot Carpenter, VP of government affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, arrogantly told the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“What Americans really want is the ability to stream, download and customize music playlists to meet their personal preferences,” Carpenter said, “and that’s NOT what the traditional FM radio offers.”
So umm, why not both?
Carpenter also said that “Activating a smartphone’s FM chip isn’t free,” as if deactivating it after building it into a phone is. What he really means is that the carriers will accommodate radio stations in exchange for a piece of the latter’s revenues. In fact, the NAB is negotiating just such a deal with the CTIA-Wireless Association right now.
Of course, any radio station could simply invest in streaming tech to reach its Internet-obsessed audience. But if it’s cheaper to pay the carriers to enable their FM chips, that’s good business.
If you would like to lobby your carrier or phone maker to enable the FM chip for which you paid, but cannot use, the Free Radio on My Phone website has a page that makes it quick and easy to contact AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Apple, your member of Congress and the FCC. There's even sample text included.
How do YOU feel about the lack of FM radio on your phone? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 May 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- A Secret Radio Inside Your Phone? (Posted: 19 May 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved