Paul Brenner is president of NextRadio.
MEXICO CITY — In a victory for FM radio listeners in Mexico, the country’s broadcast regulator, the Federal Telecommunications Institute, now requires smartphone manufacturers to activate their phones’ built-in FM radio reception chips.
“This makes Mexico the first country in the world to compel smartphone makers to activate their phone’s FM radios,” said Paul Brenner, president of NextRadio. The NextRadio app interfaces with the phone to allow listeners to hear FM radio broadcasts on their smartphones via traditional RF broadcasts rather than via streaming using costly data plans.
“In emergency situations, Mexicans will be able to get public safety information via FM on their phones; even if their cellular service is down,” he said.
The good news is “With Mexico in the lead, the rest of Latin America will follow,” said Brenner. “This means about 400 million subscribers will eventually be able to tune directly to FM on their smartphones, rather than having to stream audio via their service providers. It is not clear if this rule will apply to Apple phones due to their design, but it definitely applies to Androids.
” The bad news however is that “The rest of the world is not likely to follow suit; at least not for the foreseeable future,” Brenner said. “This is because there are too many forces arrayed against requiring FM chip activation on smartphones — especially carriers with a vested interest in consumers paying for streaming audio rather than listening free — and too many regulators not willing to stick their necks out.”
The United States is one place where regulators are sympathetic to requiring FM chips to be activated, but are not willing to do anything about it. “I’ll keep speaking out about the benefits of activating FM chips,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his Feb. 16, 2017 remarks to the North American Broadcasters Association. “Having said that, as a believer in free markets and the rule of law ... I believe it��s best to sort this issue out in the marketplace.”
Brenner added, “Europe is also not interested in activating FM chips. If anything, the regulators would like to see DAB chips in smartphones instead. And although there is interest in Japan and South Korea for activating FM chips, there is no such enthusiasm in China.”
Still, Brenner holds out hope for FM chips eventually achieving worldwide activation. “The situation is akin to what happened with Wi-Fi,” he said. “Initially most carriers didn’t activate Wi-Fi on their smartphones, because they wanted subscribers to consume data on cellular. But once one carrier activated Wi-Fi, others followed suit — and now all major smartphones offer Wi-Fi connectivity as a standard enable feature.”