Mobility

AT&T to activate FM Radio chips next year

AT&T is set to "light up" FM radios on all new Android devices in 2016. Find out why this could be a big deal.

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Image: Jack Wallen

How do you enjoy your music and news on your mobile device? It's pretty simple if you just want to stream a killer playlist through Spotify, listen to a podcast, or scroll through local/national news via the web. But what if you want to return to the "good old days" of FM radio? What if you want to hear a local radio personality? Or want to hear your local NPR channel? What if you happen to be in a college town and want to enjoy the hippest tunes spinning off the platters of the alt college station?

It's very simple. If your carrier is AT&T, you wait until next year when every Android device with the AT&T logo will be sold with their FM chips activated. That's right, good old FM radio is set for a mobile comeback.

Or as much of a comeback as the aging technology can.

But wait, this isn't really just about being able to listen to that horribly annoying morning radio show (what with the goofy voices, bad humor, and sound effects). This is about so much more. In fact, according to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), this will open up an entire world to a technology that has been so desperately in need of a boost. Consider this: FM broadcast radio will now enjoy song tagging. This could wind up being a massive boon for the music industry.

Consider this: You're listening to FM radio on your Android device and a song comes on that you fall in love with. You immediately tag the song and then, say, Amazon opens so that you can purchase the song, or Spotify opens so you can add it to a playlist.

What this could really mean is that FM radio could (operative word being "could") become relevant again. According to NAB, their research clearly indicates people want FM radio no their smartphones. Why? Believe it or not, there are still a lot of people that depend upon FM radio. Not only for music and news, but for emergency broadcast information. Think about this: You're walking along listening to FM radio and an emergency is pushed to your device giving you detailed information on the threat as well as what to do. That's important stuff... and should be a part of mobility.

This plan was actually put in place years ago and groups like FreeRadioonmyPhone.org had planned on filing an anti-trust suit to get a mandate from Congress. Now, it seems as if that's not going to be necessary.

At least not to light the fire under the feet of AT&T. The next question is simple... Will other carriers fall in line? Or will AT&T be the only FM mobile solution?

This is a huge win for AT&T customers that have longed to enjoy the kind of content and broadcasting only found riding on the FM airwaves.

  • Local radio news
  • Entertainment
  • Weather
  • Failsafe emergency alert connectivity

Once this happens. AT&T users will be able to make use of apps like NextRadio to deliver free FM broadcasts to their devices.

Of course, this isn't the first such deal. Sprint had already inked something similar to light up FM radio chips to prove the concept could work. But the deal with AT&T is the first such agreement with a large-scale carrier. Hopefully the remaining carriers will come on board with this so that consumers can enjoy all of the content currently traversing the airwaves.

What do you think? Is having a built-in FM radio on your smartphone a dealbreaker, dealmaker, or a non-issue?

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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