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Is your station phone-friendly?

We’re building Radioplayer apps for mobiles at the moment, and (as always) we’re drawing on the experience of the radio industry as we go. There are many single-station radio apps out there already, and a few that offer multiple stations too.  

We want Radioplayer to be the most reliable multi-channel radio app in the market. To achieve that, we obviously have to help the industry make their online radio streams play reliably on phones. So we’ve done a bit of digging on the topic of mobile data. 

A user can be on a variety of mobile connections, depending on where they are, and how congested the network is. But what are the main differences between these connections, how often is a typical user on each, and what does that mean for radio streaming? 

  1. Wi-fi connections are the fattest ‘phone pipes’, delivering about 5 megabits per second on average, and 3G typically at least 1 megabit per second. These are both capable of delivering high-quality radio streams to mobiles. 
  2. However, when on the move, handsets are only on 3G connections about 60% of the time, according to crowd-sourced data. The BBC conducted a similar experiment, which appears to reinforce this finding. 
  3. So, during the 40% of the time that your mobile’s on those lower-speed connections (2G/Edge), the maximum bitrate available to the device is just 48 kilobits per second. That’s typically just 5-10% of the 3G capacity. 

So, if you’re a radio station, and you want to give your app a fighting chance of being heard on the move, you need to offer a stream that’s able to get through those ‘thin pipes’ too. That’s why we’re asking stations in the new Radioplayer app to supply their ‘mobile-friendly’ streams at 48 kilobits per second or less. 

Unfortunately, we’ve found that many stations are using 56 or 64 kilobit streams in their apps and mobile sites. Having tested these streams, we can confirm that on 2G connections (where your mobile users will be 40% of the time), they just don’t work at all. 

So the message is simple. If we want radio to remain a ‘mobile medium’, we need to work out how to make phone listening as reliable as desktop listening is now. In the medium term, the answer could be more FM/DAB chips in phones, so the audio arrives via broadcast radio, not the mobile networks. 

But until that happens – your mobile-friendly streams have to be at 48 kilobits or less, or they’ll choke.  

There’s good news though...

  • Reducing the bitrate is easy, and it saves you money. Just call your streaming provider.
  • A well-encoded AAC stream at, say 40 kilobits, should sound great in your own mobile apps, the Radioplayer mobile app, and even your Radioplayer console.
  • And you can also give us a second, higher-quality stream if you want. The app will switch to it automatically when it can.

Here are a couple of examples of decent-quality ‘mobile-friendly’ streams, running at 48k or less. Try opening them on your phone. And please get in touch if you have any questions –

Amber Sound, at 32 kilobits AAC

KISS 100, at 48 kilobits AAC

Posted on 24 July 2012 - 8:34pm