Streaming to Mobile Devices

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Trends in Technology, April 2010

It seems like only yesterday (it was actually more than a decade ago) that we plopped a 300-user license WME server at our local ISP and streamed audio to our more tech-savvy listeners who had some amount of trouble picking up the station over the air. There was no money to be made in it at the time; we looked at it as more of a listener service. Plus, it was a relatively new technology that we just thought was pretty cool.

Fast-forward to 2010: Streaming audio is now essentially a requirement for any radio station. The number of users receiving radio station audio streams is rapidly increasing. Bridge Ratings Service has recently concluded (based on its research) that more than 60 million people in the United States listen to some form of Internet radio during the course of a typical week. Perhaps more importantly, Bridge is predicting that number will rise to 77 million by the beginning of 2015. That's a 28 percent gain in 4 years -- a prediction that we all have to take note of. Add to that, Gartner Research has recently predicted that the number of mobile Internet devices will exceed that of desktop devices as early as 2013.

If your station hasn't already done so, it's time to look into providing streaming for these mobile devices. Your competition is. The Pandoras of the world already are.

Choices, choices

When an end-user goes out to buy a phone he has many choices not only in the device itself but also in the network that it resides on. Probably the best known devices are the iPhone, the Blackberry series, and the Droid. (There are others of course). I'll refer to these simply as platforms.

Perhaps the biggest difference between "broadcasting" to mobile platforms, and over-the air transmission is that there are multiple ways to stream and they are specific to the platform type and network. For example:

Phone TypeProtocolLossy CodecData Rate
iPhonehttpMP4 (AAC)64 or 40kp/s
BlackberryhttpMP4 (AAC)64 or 40kp/s
Motorola DroidrtspMP4 (AAC)32kp/s
Flash encoderrtmpMP4 (AAC)64 or 32kb/s

This table is obviously not complete; there are other types of phones, but this gives you an idea of what's available.

We OTA broadcasters have for years delivered a specific format (for FM, 15kHz audio bandwidth, +/-75kHz deviation, 75µs emphasis), and receiver manufacturers made radios compatible with the standards. The game has changed now somewhat — we need to play by their rules. The bottom line is that you will have at least one and perhaps more computers generating streams targeted for the various available platforms.

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