In a move that has the potential to reset the radio industry’s relationship with the cell phone industry, Emmis Interactive, iBiquity and Intel are developing an HD Radio-equipped smartphone. The initiative would not only open the door to FM capability on cell phones, it would put radio in the handset business. The consortium of industry players has held preliminary discussions with wireless carriers. “There’s great interest in it, but they want to see a product,” Emmis chief technology officer Paul Brenner says. The potential lure for the wireless industry is help in dealing with a mounting spectrum crunch. “It can off-load bandwidth for them for things like streaming video,” Brenner explains. NAB Fastroad provided the seed money for the project with the primary goal to demonstrate that HD Radio in mobile devices is technically feasible and affordable. The team hopes to have a handset to demo to broadcasters and the wireless industry by the NAB Show in Las Vegas next spring. If a carrier likes what it sees, it’s possible the handset could be in stores by the end of 2012. But first a sound revenue model must be developed and technical aspects fine-tuned.
New device would be a game-changer that enables efficient two-way connections. Industry leaders say the successful development of an HD Radio-equipped smartphone would be a game-changer, not just as a way to finally get radio receivers into phones but for enabling a two-way connection. “It will help realize the potential we have been talking about,” iBiquity CEO Bob Struble says, “pairing the super-efficient broadcast distribution capability with a connected back channel to create fundamentally new listener experiences and whole new ways to serve advertisers.” Radio Advertising Bureau Board members were briefed for the first time yesterday. While it is early, RAB president Jeff Haley sees loads of potential. “There are some very dynamic plans in development around expanded distribution, enhanced listener experience and broadened revenue opportunity that are just starting to be shared with industry leaders,” Haley says. “The vision is bold and the prospect of transformative change is quite exciting.” Of course getting the industry onboard to realize the revenue potential will be necessary to build out infrastructure upgrades. That’s been difficult in the past few years, as a limited number of stations updated their software to add the new Artist Experience component to their HD signal. The project will become a second front in radio’s battle to get broader cell phone distribution. Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan, who’s been an industry point person on the cell phone issue, says the effort will be executed in tandem with the ongoing regulatory push to get FM chips into cell phones. “We’ve realized that we can do a lot of things with our spectrum,” he says.