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The Rise of Radio

by Roger Lanctot | 6月 17, 2015

As I read “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story of the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” by Jacque McNish a core theme emerges early on.  RIM executives Jim Balsillie and Mike Laziridis properly anticipate the emerging importance of data services and the demand for increased wireless bandwidth for data and email messaging, but fail to anticipate the next wave of wireless data demand in the form of content streamed to iPhones with larger screens and no keyboards.

It’s easy to fall into this trap working in the wireless industry.  The wireless carriers are constantly complaining about the overwhelming demands put on their networks and consumers are always complaining about coverage.  RIM prided itself on its stingy use of bandwidth.  Apple demonstrated that if the demand was strong for service it was in the interest of the carriers to find a way to provide the capacity.

We all understand this now.  Or do we?

The radio industry is poised for a revolutionary shift to digital broadcast technology.  The broadcast radio industry prides itself on its coverage – especially vis-à-vis the wireless industry.  But current analog spectrum use has reached capacity in most parts of the world, constraining innovation and growth.  At the same time, the quality of analog broadcast signals has declined.

The U.S. is uniquely blessed in having gotten a jump on solving this problem with the widespread adoption of HD Radio technology.  In fact, the primary cheerleader for HD Radio technology, iBiquity, had the foresight to aggressively pursue implementation of HD Radio receivers with both broadcasters and car companies.

Europe is making much slower progress adopting DAB and DAB+ digital radio technology in a more fragmented market.  Norway and the United Kingdom are in the forefront of the shift which has also focused on adoption in cars, but much heavy lifting remains – including the conversion of a lingering hard core of skeptics.

Digital radio skeptics ought to take a closer look at the revolution in digital radio taking place in dashboards in the U.S.  Radio is becoming a visual medium with everything from metadata to weather and traffic maps “broadcast” onto appropriately equipped dashboard displays.

Because of the development cycles in the automotive industry, the advances in HD Radio have seemed to “creep up” on consumers and dealers.  Suddenly, it seems, new cars, rental cars, friends cars are increasingly equipped with larger screens and those larger screens are increasingly populated with metadata including everything from song, artist and album to station logos.

The next stage of HD Radio implementation in automotive infotainment systems will include fuel prices, weather and traffic information.  Japanese and German car makers are leading the way, but Ford, Chrysler and GM won’t be far behind.  Some cars from Lexus, Toyota, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Honda and Acura are already displaying these images via subscription-free HD Radio sources.

How long it will be before Europe gets on board the digital radio bus remains to be seen.  HD Radio technology is responding to the need for broadcast radio to preserve its ability to innovate and compete with the growing variety of content sources.  Strategy Analytics surveys show that interest in terrestrial radio remains strong and usage is only down slightly, but the variety of alternative sources of content has grown and is growing.

With streaming sources of content multiplying and the variety of streaming business models also expanding, HD Radio allows broadcasts to broaden their range of content delivery options and enhance customer engagement with graphics.  The next stage in the enhancement of broadcast radio will be searchability.

At least one company has mastered the ability to search terrestrially broadcast content and is bringing that solution to the market.  So, while streaming content providers are manipulating their subscription-based and freemium offerings of content – including more spoken-word, podcast, and video content (ie. Spotify) – broadcast radio in North America is leading the digital radio charge.

The next stage of evolution for broadcast radio content delivery to the car will be the integration of IP and broadcast sources via services such as RadioDNS and NextRadio.  RadioDNS is working to enable a hybrid radio experience while NextRadio is looking to leverage the radio reception capability already built into most smartphones.

Broadcast radio’s evolution to digital delivery is transforming the in-car experience and it is doing so at low cost and with a familiar user experience with or without wired or wirelessly connected mobile devices.  Most importantly, it is delivering enhanced content without a subscription.

As for BlackBerry and the ever-expanding wireless pipe:  Let us all never again underestimate the capacity and capability of the wireless network to disrupt.

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