Going Mobile: Streaming to Mobile Devices

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The challenges of streaming audio to mobile devices and moving vehicles

AM/FM vs. streaming audio to a vehicle

So now that we see what is involved in getting streaming audio into a vehicle, here's a short comparison of the steps involved with respect to each technology.

For AM or FM:

  • Generation of program audio
  • Relaying program audio to transmitter site
  • RF signal generated, radiated
  • RF signal received by car stereo, demodulated, played out to user

    For streaming audio:

  • Generation of program audio
  • Generation of stream (or streams) by computer-hosted codec
  • Relaying of stream to CDN by means of IP network
  • CDN peering to major wireless provider
  • IP connection from peering location to base station, as directed by base station controller
  • RF signal generated, radiated
  • RF signal received, data decoded
  • Decoded data used by A2DP over Bluetooth connection to car stereo
  • Data taken from A2DP stream, decoded, played out to user

    While it's clear that the technology to stream audio to a moving vehicle exists, it seems pretty clear that there is much more to it than there is in getting plain old radio into a vehicle. As the technology moves forward, and more applications become available for vehicles, more data throughput will become necessary, and from plain old economics (the law of supply and demand) it seems obvious the cost of streaming will go from zero to some (at least) modest amount. This will become a headwind for the increasing acceptance of streaming audio in-vehicle; some people will pay, and not care; others will be more frugal. It will also be quite some time before enough new vehicles with Internet access and/or Bluetooth capability make their way to end users for this transmission means to have a substantial impact; car sales are certainly not what they were prior to the recession. Older vehicles with old-fashioned radios are going to be on the road longer due to the economic situation.

    With all that said, I still believe it is vitally important to make use of and optimize every means at our disposal so that listeners can get our content in the way they prefer, whether that is via terrestrial radio or via streaming over the Internet.

    Irwin is transmission systems supervisor for Clear Channel NYC and chief engineer of WKTU, New York. Contact him at doug@dougirwin.net.

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