Tuesday, July 29, 2008

iPhone + Streaming Radio

Okay, this is not really about networking or IU, but I thought it was pretty cool so I figured I'd share it with all of you (which hopefully includes a few more people than I've already told this to in person). *AND* it did involve 1 piece of network equipment owned by IU, so....

Like many people, I'm amazed by many of the 3rd party applications for the iPhone. I was very busy preparing for the Joint Techs workshop last week, so I didn't have much time to "play" with all the new applications for my iPhone. I did, however, download the AOL Radio application a couple of days before leaving for Lincoln. It worked fairly well and I quickly thought it would be quite cool if I could use it in my car while driving ! I'm too cheap to pay for satellite radio, so the idea of being able to listen to radio stations from all over the country in my car caught my eye !

Of course, the first thing I thought was *DOH* - what about that darn GSM interference ? All that buzzing and popping coming through the radio from the streaming audio over the EDGE network wouldn't do. Luckily, I've been testing a Linksys Mobile Broadband router with a Sprint EV-DO card. So I could plug this into the power outlet in my trunk and connect my iPhone to it via Wifi. Note: with iPhone 2.0 release, you can put the iPhone in "airplane mode" - shutting down the cellular radio - and then enable the Wifi radio :) Problem #1 solved ! BTW- I've been told that HSDPA (AT&T's 3G technology) does not have the same interference issues, but alas I don't have one to test with :-(

The next problem was that Sprint doesn't have 3G in Bloomington yet. So how well would this work over the "slow-as molasses" 1xRTT network ?

Before I left for the airport, I tossed the Linksys into my trunk (not literally) and plugged into the power outlet. I dropped (again not literally) my iphone into the dock in my car and headed out. Shortly after I passed the Bloomington bypass on highway 37, I fired up AOL Radio to see what would happen. The station started, but the audio was in and out, stopping and starting --- unusable :-( I turned it off and went back to listening to a podcast. When I reached Martinsville - safely within Sprint's EV-DO coverage - I tried it again -- tuning into the Jack FM station in Chicago. This time it worked fairly well. Every few minutes there would be a short audio drop as it rebuffered, but all-in-all it worked reasonably well.

While I was in Lincoln, I had some free time to play my iPhone. I downloaded a bunch of 3rd party apps include Pandora. For those of you who haven't used Pandora, it's a personal radio station application. You pick an artist and they select songs from that artist and other similar artists. You can give songs a thumbs up or thumbs down and it supposedly adjusts to your tastes.

While in Lincoln, I used Pandora over the EDGE network from my hotel room and walking around town. I was amazed by how well it worked over the EDGE network. Excellent sound quality and almost no rebuffering. I couldn't wait to try it out on the drive home from the airport.

So, last Thursday night while driving home from the airport I tried it out. Amazing ! The quality over both EV-DO and 1xRTT networks was excellent ! Presumably it would be just as good using the cellular radio internal to the iPhone - assuming there wasn't a GSM interference issue. I've been using it for the past several days and have been amazed at how well it works - even down by my house in the southern part of the county where there are definitely some dead spots !

If I ran a satellite radio company, I'd definitely be paying attention to this. It seems to me the major cost for the satellite radio companies is transport - ie getting the signal from the head-end to the users. The reason people want satellite radio is the large selection of content that is available anywhere - not just within your local broadcast area. Exchanging satellite transport for IP transport (either over wired or wireless networks) could drastically reduce their costs and increase their availability - ie you can get IP-based connection in places you can't easily get satellite - like in basements !


Nathan S said...

I just got my iPhone a week ago. I live a little closer to IUPUI than you do, s I stay in 3G range the entire time. On my 25 minute commute, I was able to listen to Pandora the entire time without rebuffering once.

At this point, I've just been using a cheap FM transmitter plugged into the headphone output. I'm contemplating a radio replacement that has full support for the iPhone/iPod.

I've personally been wishing for packet based "radio" in my car for years. It looks like it is here, at least for my drive to IUPUI.

Nathan Byrer

Matt Davy said...

Since my post there was an upgrade to Pandora that significantly improved the performance over the EDGE network as well. The only rebuffering I get is down by my house on the far southwestern edge of Monroe county where coverage gets really spotting down in the valleys.

As for the GSM interference, I discovered the vast majority of the interference wasn't coming through dock connector to the tape adaptor. It was directly related to the proximity of my iPhone to the dashboard. I have a TuneFlex dock in my car (great product btw) that makes it impossible to move the iPhone further than about 6 inches from the stereo. It normally sits right up against the dash immediately to the right of the stereo controls (which makes it really easy to use) ! When I used my wife's adaptor, which has a cable long enough I can put my iPhone in the back seat, the interference went away *almost* completely.

I really have to wonder about the future of satellite radio !