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About 1 in 10 Handsets in U.S. Now Comes With FM Radio Enabled, Study Finds

Study for NAB FASTROAD says wireless carriers and cell phone manufacturers could do more to promote FM in devices

There will be cellphones with FM radio capability on display at next week’s Radio Show, RW hears.

Meanwhile, NAB is keeping up the pressure on wireless companies and cell phone manufacturers to include FM in their devices.

In a study commissioned by NAB’s FASTROAD technology advocacy program and conducted by Insight Research, the trade group wanted to know how many cell phones with activated FM radio chips were sold in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009. NAB also wanted an estimate of the prospects for FM-enabled cell phones and other hand-held devices in the future. (FASTROAD stands for Flexible Advanced Services for Television & Radio On All Devices, so you know where they’re coming from.)

Insight Research estimates that in 2008, 6% of the handsets sold in the U.S. were FM-enabled. This increased to about 9.5% in 2009. A previous NAB study looked at the market in 2007 and estimated that 8% of wireless devices shipped had an FM radio chip installed, though not necessarily activated.

Though several manufacturers have integrated FM into their cell phones, the only way to know for sure the percent of handsets with an installed FM chip would be to match each handset with its associated chipset, which would require reverse engineering of all handsets on the market in 2008 and 2009, according to Insight; that was beyond the scope of this study.

It does conclude, however, that the number of handsets that have non-activated FM chips could be “significant,” based on the amount of wireless phones that are sold with an FM chip that was never activated.

Compared to other countries, consumer demand here for radio in cell phones is low. Few U.S. carriers have promoted the feature, the authors wrote, concluding that the feature could “languish” here if there’s no consumer demand and if carriers don’t promote it.

Insight suggested several ways to increase visibility of the radio feature in cell phone, such as broadcasters developing a promotion program with carriers using in-store displays and sales rep training about the feature. FM stations could promote the feature on-air and refer listeners to a website containing activation instructions.

This week, representatives from NAB’s board wrote to leaders of key House and Senate committees regarding potential consumer benefits from including radio in cell phones. They cited the recent Harris Interactive poll commissioned by NAB showing that a sizable majority of American cell phone users would like the ability to listen to their local radio stations through a built-in radio receiver on their mobile phone.