Feature Article: Challenges and opportunities offered by the connected car


Mark Friend
Controller Multiplatform
BBC Radio

Radio is strong in-car but must adapt.  In-car listening has been a major factor in radio’s success since it was introduced in the 1920s. Radio remains ideally suited to listening on the move with a wide mix of entertaining content, up-to-date traffic and weather information and news headlines, all delivered simply so that it minimises driver distraction. It remains the predominant media experience that people turn to in cars around the world. In the UK, radio reaches nearly 70% of people in their cars each week and, in the US, around half of the total time spent listening to radio takes place in cars.

Radio remains popular with drivers and passengers but in-car infotainment will be completely transformed by connected car technology. Growing usage of the internet and smartphones is impacting on the media services that people expect to have at their fingertips all the time and radio must adapt to this world of connected opportunities. In the UK, 63% of people own a mobile device, up by 50% on the same time last year.

We must work together for radio to be sophisticated but simple
Analogue broadcast radio has traditionally been relatively easy for OEMs and Tier 1 manufacturers to incorporate in vehicles anywhere in the world. The challenge for the radio sector as it moves towards a digital future is to ensure that radio remains simple, both for listeners and manufacturers, while at the same time becoming more sophisticated.

We can only achieve that by working closely together as a global radio industry and working in collaboration with the leading automotive brands. We must aim for a coordinated approach in integrating the opportunities offered by radio and new technologies. Overall it is important to have a forward plan that gives the industry confidence.

Confidence in a digital radio future will be an important factor and that is what we have been working towards in the United Kingdom influencing and supporting key vehicle manufacturers:

  • 41.6% of new cars now have digital radio fitted as standard (Oct 2013 – CAP/SMMT),
  • Ford, VW, BMW, Mini, Audi, Jaguar LandRover and Volvo are fitting digital radio as standard in the majority of models and 90% of new vehicles are expected to include digital radio by the end of 2015.
  • the majority of cars on the road are able to converted to receive digital radio via a range of head units and adaptors that are available.
  • While this means that almost all new cars will soon be sold with digital radio as standard, the challenge remains to convert the 34million vehicles currently on the road. Only 69,000 vehicles have undergone conversion to digital radio in the last two years and we need to find more compelling reasons for people to invest in converting their existing analogue car radios.

Connected Cars bring opportunities and challenges
The connected car brings exciting opportunities and will become increasingly common in many countries over the next decade. It will transform many areas, including insurance and road safety, as well as in-car infotainment.

It also brings some significant challenges:

  • Technological complexity for broadcasters with the lack of an agreed common standard
  • Uncoordinated presentation of radio between broadcast (eg DAB/MW/FM) and IP delivered radio and lack of service following implementation between broadcast and IP modes.
  • Limited data allowances and ‘roaming’ charges from country to country (broadcast is free)
  • Reliability of 3G/4G signal / lack of Wi-Fi spots creating buffering and traffic congestion
  • Crowded app marketplace with app store prominence and app pre-installs on handsets difficult to secure; games/social networking/ other apps competing
  • Lack of automated service following between IP and broadcast

Radio must innovate and remain prominent
The first challenge is to ensure radio remains a prominent choice for in-car infotainment. Most car entertainment systems currently offer drivers a straightforward choice between broadcast radio and listening to your own audio via CD or docking MP3 players etc. A combination of connected cars and colour screens will put this simplicity and prominence at risk.
We need to ensure that radio remains first choice for people and is simple to access through a single station guide. After all, people don’t normally care what technology is used to deliver the actual audio. The next challenge is to ensure that we keep innovating with broadcast, internet and hybrid radio. Hybrid broadcast/ IP with DAB radio as the central backbone will help maintain radio’s popularity, providing low cost listening, a compelling user interface and services and will reduce the pressure on mobile data networks.

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In-car development is complicated by the number of standards
Redesigning the connected car is made complex by the sheer range of different technology standards that OEMs are adopting and developing. Different versions are needed for each range of cars although some standardisation is starting to emerge. There is currently no single common solution for smartphone integration and OEM’s use a range of proprietary and open technical solutions, which require different modifications to the phone app. Further work and development needs to be undertaken to address:

  • Voice control
  • Minimised visual distraction
  • Landscape view
  • Simple navigation
  • Simplify features

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Moving forward it is important to focus on ensuring there is cross industry consensus on a ‘common’ standard for tethered app integration into cars with consistent applications and user interface. It is also important that a country specific list of available stations is easy to access and updated on a regular basis.

A combination of technological standardisation and hybrid radio in smartphones will create more compelling reasons for people to invest in upgrading their existing analogue in-car entertainment systems to digital hybrid radio.

The Universal Smartphone Radio Project
Radio is particularly suited to listening on the go, as shown by the success of podcasts and the popularity of radio listening in first generation handsets (mainly via FM). However, only a minority (5%) of smartphones have activated radio receivers and, without a broadcast backbone, there is a risk that mobile listening will stagnate, unable to realise its full potential. Limited data allowances, poor battery life and patchy signal remain a significant problem for listening on the go via 3G.

The Universal Smartphone Radio Project aims to secure the best possible hybrid radio listening experience on smartphones. It is a shared priority for public service and commercial radio in the UK and is being led by a group of 9 broadcasters from around the world including Europe, Australia and North America, spanning public service and commercial interests. It is engaging with a wide range of handset manufacturers and MNOs and working closely with related initiatives.

Securing the best possible radio listening experience on smartphones will be done by developing:

  • An open API which all manufacturers can access
  • UX guidelines to help common user experience
  • Broadcaster Support & Content
  • Silicon solutions
  • Consumer demand

Advances in silicon development mean that it is feasible to create a single silicon solution that will cover FM, DAB, DAB+, DMB as well as HD radio. Incorporating this will help to create a genuinely global radio solution for the smartphone. This will create benefits for all parties:

  • More energy efficient
  • Lower data usage
  • Low battery usage
  • Better coverage
  • Additional revenue


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