Radio on the move–the right way

Interested in more radio stations when you’re on the move – well you’re at the right place!

tmpC31FInternet radio is not a new phenomena, “Shoutcast Radio” by Nullsoft (Winamp)  has been available since 1999 and has continued to grow ever since. PC users have been able to listen to their choice of worldwide radio stations since then – which is fine but not a lot of use on the move.

Recently several things have happened recently (I refer here to the UK, American viewers have had satellite radio options for some time now while we’ve been stuck with the umpteen regional repeats of the BBC and a handful of alternatives on FM) which has made mobile Internet radio practical.

Firstly, mobile phones have become smarter to the point where Android and iPhone devices for example can handle fairly sophisticated programs in the background as well as transmitting audio via Bluetooth to car speakers.

tmp5D21Secondly, the mobile network has improved. THREE company claim to have just about the best 3G network – now, I know Orange customers will say that Orange and O2 collectively have a massive network – but take it from me, in rural areas, for example the A69 in Northumberland, you’ll find much of that is the older kind of connection which simply is not fast enough to “stream” music.

Thirdly more car radios than ever now either have an “auxiliary” socket for audio or handle Bluetooth connections for audio (sadly, still not enough).

Ok so what do I mean by “stream”?  Well, downloading tunes before you play them is not really practical for mobile radio and so Internet radio is “streamed” which means your device at any time only downloads enough to be able to play the tune. As the music plays, the next few seconds are downloaded ready for use etc etc… continuously. This allows for continuous play after a short delay. That delay determines to some extent how well the service tackles signal drop-outs – ie what happens if there is no signal for a couple of seconds or so due to a combination of poor signal and obstructions.

tmpA44ALet’s take my setup as an example… I have a Mercedes with an auxiliary socket for audio. The car handles Bluetooth but only for phone calls so I bought a Belkin Bluetooth audio receiver which requires power, connects to the Bluetooth on your phone as a kind of headphone device- and transmits the audio from the phone through a 3.5mm stereo jack to your home stereo or car radio. It works a treat and the quality is high. In my case I have a 240v supply in the car but the unit operates on low voltage so anyone with a bent towards a soldering iron should be able to adapt the unit to run off the car. Some folk have questioned the quality of such devices, I’ve had no problems at all.

tmpF567That takes care of the hardware and for software I use “TuneIn Radio”which costs a couple of pounds at most on Android and iPhone devices. Hundreds if not thousands of radio stations available at the touch of a button are now available to anyone who puts the effort forward to make it work.

tmpA7D5Be aware that using Internet radio eats up your mobile data so a few hours in the car listening to Internet radio could put pay to a few hundred megabytes easily – make sure your service provider does not impose limits on how much data you can use. Orange for example despite claiming “unlimited data use for iPhones, in fact have rescinded on that and have a “fair use” policy, which translated into English means they underestimated the amount of data people would use.  Three specifically state “all you can eat” in many of their contracts and there is no fair use policy. So make sure you’re with the right provider.

So what about drop-outs – with radio the signal quality degrades and you end up changing channels all the time when on the move (unless you only ever listen to BBC in which case you’re missing out) but with Internet radio this simply does not happen. If you have a bad or no signal for more than a few seconds, the music simply stops and may pick up when you get back to a half-decent signal – but to put this in perspective, a trip down the M6 will see areas in the mountains of NO radio signal at all while Internet radio continues un-hindered.  In my experience, using THREE as a source of Internet (either on the phone or using a MIFI dongle to supply WIFI to the phone) it is pretty much swings and roundabouts which is best in terms of availability – but of course with the latter you don’t have to change channels as you do, with, say BBC local radio.  My local Northeast radio for example is available on TuneIn Radio and I can pick this up anywhere in the world, not just while I’m in the Northeast.

I hope if nothing else this article gets you to investigate Internet radio – a wonderful alternative to rather limited FM radio.

Images are copyright their respective owners.

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