Iâ€™ve recently read some stories about how Internet access may become a feature of upcoming car models such as to provide streaming radio, satellite imaging and detailed traffic info for GPS, etc.
With the small selection of FM radio stations in my area that often go overboard with DJ talk and ads, I really liked the idea of being able to later get an Internet enabled car what would have a radio that could stream stations off the web like you can on the PC. After having a think about this, I realised I have all the equipment I need to do this even with my existing car stereo!
Basically, what you need is a 3G phone with a data plan (e.g. 1GB/month), a streaming radio app and a way of sending the audio to your car stereo. Then it just a matter of picking a station on the radio app, link it up with the car radio, put the car into gear/drive and drive off and say goodbye to FM.
Before you attempt to radio from your cellular network, make sure that you have a decent data plan, otherwise this could end run into an expensive way to listen to the radio! A typical 96kbps radio station will consume about 45MB per hour. Here in Ireland, some pre-pay cellular operators give 50MB usage a day for â‚¬1, e.g. O2.
Do NOT attempt to stream radio while roaming! Most providers charge typically around â‚¬5 per MB while roaming, which for a typical 96kbps station works out at â‚¬3.50 per minute!! If you leave near an international border, set your phone to manual search on your home network to prevent it roaming.
If your phone has Wi-Fi and you have a Mi-Fi broadband router, another option is to use this for connectivity. This may also be a good alternative if you donâ€™t have a data plan or if the Mi-Fi broadband router is with another cellular provider that provides a more reliable connection. Again, if you live or travel near a border, make sure the 3G router cannot roam.
Assuming you have a decent data plan, the next thing is to find an app that can stream radio, e.g. using the app store for your phone make. Some online radio stations have dedicated apps to stream their station, so this is an option if you tend to listen to just a few specific stations. My favourite is TuneWiki, which is a free app that can look up stations on Shoutcast as well as stream them. It also displays cover art, lyrics, etc. which is a nice idea. Another good one if you have an iPhone is Reciva, which is a company that provides its interface in most Wi-Fi radios on the market. This app is priced at Â£1.19 going by the app store.
To start with, ensure you have good 3G coverage and try streaming a station for 30 minutes. This will give an idea if your network is capable of streaming the station reliably assuming the coverage is good. If the station repetitively breaks up, try another station or two just in case itâ€™s the station itself at fault. If you have difficulties streaming any station, then unfortunately this idea is not going to work, unless you are able to use another cellular provider, e.g.a phone with Wi-Fi connected to a Mi-FI broadband router with another cellular provider.
Now with the streaming radio working on your phone, itâ€™s time to play it through your car stereo speakers!
There are several ways of going about this depending on what type of radio you have, so Iâ€™ll go through these one by one. The first method requires a Bluetooth radio, while the three other methods require the ability to plug a 3.5mm (1/8â€) jack into your phone, as what most basic earphones use. Some phones need a special headphone adapter for a 3.5mm jack, e.g. a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter for the Nokia 6300.
Car stereo with Bluetooth â€“ Many modern car radios have built-in Bluetooth for making loudspeaker calls. Some of these radios also function as Bluetooth speakers (like Bluetooth headphones). Check the manual for the stereo if youâ€™re not sure how to do this. On the phoneâ€™s Bluetooth configuration, select the car stereo for the audio output, again checking the user manual if youâ€™re unsure how to do this. With any luck, anything you play on the phone should come out the car speakers. If not, try the following alternative methods below.
Car stereo with Line-in â€“ Get a line cable with a 3.5mm (1/8â€) jack on both ends to plug from the earphone socket on the phone to the car stereo.
Car stereo with cassette â€“ Get a cassette tape to 3.5mm adapter, the same one you would use for connecting an MP3 or CD player to the radio. Plug this in the earphone socket on the phone and insert the tape adapter into the stereo.
Other car stereo (e.g. CD, but no line in) â€“ Get an FM transmitter and plug this into the earphone socket. Tune your car stereo to the frequency on the FM transmitter. If there is interference in the audio, try another frequency on the FM transmitter and retune the car stereo to that frequency.
I have a Nokia 5800, so basically what I did was install TuneWiki, picked a streaming station I like (The Frog - commercial-free and no DJ talk :D). As my radio does not have any input functionality, I need to use an FM transmitter on the phone and tune the car stereo to the frequency on the FM transmitter.
I tried it out a few days on the O2 network (my main provider) and had mixed results. Where I had good 3G coverage, I had a pretty constant stream and also an interesting experience of being able to listen to a radio station that I normally could only listen to on my PC! Unfortunately, unlike FM reception, on my 1 hour journey from home to work, about 1/2 of the journey has no 3G coverage, so one moment I had a crystal clear station and next thing there was just complete silence. Thankfully TuneWiki will automatically reconnect when there the coverage returns, but this sudden drop-out can be quite annoying.
When I tried it on the 3 network with my Mi-Fi router, I found that it had better 3G coverage than O2 (3/4 of my journey), but the network was unable to provide a reliable stream most of the time due to how congested its network gets. For example, if I tried it early in the morning, I would have a pretty much interruption free stream for most of my journey except in 3G black spots, but if I tried it in the middle of day, it would not stream for more than 30 seconds without the audio breaking up.
With how much phone providers have expanded their 3G coverage over recent years, I would imagine that in the next few years, I can probably say goodbye to FM radio and its chatty DJs for good.