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Live Radio over the Mobile Web

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James Simcock | 17:45 UK time, Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Mobile users with internet connectivity can now listen live on pretty much any phone* to all of the BBC's national radio networks directly via our mobile web pages.

Live radio is the original mobile media, since the mid 1950s when the Regency TR-1 introduced the world to transistor-based radios - looking not enormously dissimilar to the Apple iPod. (See this picture comparing the two on Flickr.)

Although many devices have FM radios included - this is not so in most of the latest web-centric smartphones, nor does it give access to our digital radio networks. Live radio is of course the heart of what BBC Audio & Music produce. Not allowing access to live radio streaming on mobile has left us with a very limited offering to mobile users.

Within the mobile web browser, what we've been able to make available previously was comparable to DVD extras without the main feature. Such supplementary content can be useful, entertaining or enjoyable, but rarely comes close to matching the value or impact of the feature itself. In this case, the main feature is the live broadcast output of the BBC's national radio networks.

Until now, we were rather stuck on this due to the end-user cost and bandwidth limitations of mobile web traffic. However, as our audiences spend an increasing amount of time consuming content via their mobile devices it seemed the time was nigh for a change in our policies. Over the past two years, UK page views to the BBC Mobile site have increased almost six-fold, from 35m in April 2008 to 208m in April 2010 (Source: Sage).

Historically, and with the best intentions, the BBC has taken a very cautious approach to high-bandwidth services on mobile. This has been to help avoid what the mobile industry terms "bill-shock", where users don't realise how much data they are consuming till their monthly bill arrives or till their PAYG (pay as you go) credit runs out unexpectedly. However, the market is changing dramatically. Now many new phones are sold with an included unlimited data plan. Even a large proportion of PAYG users would now find themselves on a flat-rate per day (unless roaming), so there's no difference in end-user cost browsing a simple, text-only site or browsing a data-intensive site, with lots of audio and video content.

It's taken many months to make a change to the BBC's position on mobile streaming, to develop optimised audio streams for all networks and to create various device detection rules to try to ensure we serve the right streams to the right devices (some work differently to others).

Now that the radio station offer has changed, steps have been taken to make it easier for users to find and navigate to the BBC Radio mobile sites. Mobile users who, for example, type into their browser www.bbc.co.uk/radio3 are automatically redirected to our mobile optimised site, www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/radio3. (This is currently true for all mobile devices except iPhone/iPod Touch as streaming radio is not yet available for these devices). And if the user prefers the full-fat experience, there is a clear option to 'Go To Desktop' in the footer of each page. For the BBC, it means one URL to promote; for the user it's just one URL to remember and fewer clicks.

listen_screens_330_JS.jpgAs a user, once you navigate to a BBC Radio mobile site, you'll see a link to 'Listen Live' under the name of the show now on air near the top of the page. Before audio streaming begins, an interstitial page displays detailed guidance and a warning on costs, in order to help users avoid any bill-shock. A couple of clicks later, via a majority of mobile devices (iPhone & iPod Touch to come) you'll be able to access all of the BBC's national radio networks. For our digital-only networks such as Radio 1Xtra, Asian Network, 6Music and Radio 7, as well as Radio 5Live (AM + DAB), this is the first time their output have been available on a majority of mobile devices, so it's quite a significant step forward for us. You don't need any fancy or expensive downloadable apps, or even a high-end smartphone - just a stable internet connection from your phone, be that EDGE/GPRS, 3G or WiFi.

If you're using your mobile to read this article, then you could click through now to www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/radio, pick a station and hear for yourself.

We hope you enjoy listening.

James Simcock is Executive Producer, Mobile, BBC A&Mi.

*Currently known exceptions being the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch, which we're working on, and some devices where streaming functionality is disabled - sometimes the case with business Blackberries.


  • Comment number 1.

    This is FANTASTIC news!

    I can now listen to 6 Music and Radio 4 on the move without having to have a DAB radio, and can use my phone to listen to the radio without needing to plug in the headphones and rely on the VERY dodgy FM reception in my area. I can't thank you enough - I'm listening now!

    Is there any chance that a higher bitrate than 56kbps will be offered? I'm sure it's fine for those who listen with the built in mobile speaker, but for headphone listening it's rather mushy! Many of us have unlimited data bundles, and would appreciate the option.

    A bit of feedback on the bbc.co.uk/mobile/radio page:
    That page should have 'Listen Live' links under each radio station's heading, saving users from having to click onto the individual radio station's page. Also, the /mobile/radio page, under each radio station's heading should say what's currently on, and perhaps what's on next.

    Thanks again for this excellent move!

  • Comment number 2.

    Have you just re-established rtsp or is this a different streaming technology. If the former, then you have merely returned what you annoyingly took away a year or two ago. If the latter, which I can't imagine true, what technology that our browsers could stream it? Anyway, thank for returning what we supposed was a norm, ie, universal access!

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hmm - I'm looking at Shaun Keaveny's page on the 6 music mobile site right now and I don't see a 'Listen Live' link as depicted above.

    Teething troubles?

    I'm hooked up to my wireless network at home too, loads of bandwidth.

  • Comment number 5.

    This is good news

  • Comment number 6.

    Can't get it to work on my LG arena, it starts connecting and fails with unknown error, managed to get it working on my office mates nokia n97.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's perhaps useful to note the following:
    "This audio stream is encoded at 56kbps. Listening for 30 mins would therefore equate to approx 12.3MB of data traffic."

    So 30 mins = ~12.3MB
    1 hour = ~24.6MB
    2 hours = ~49.2MB
    4 hours = ~98.4MB

    As I have unlimited (albeit capped) data at 1.02MB per month, this is handy to know. I know Vodafone for example are likely to start enforcing their 500MB cap limit rather more stringently in the coming weeks.

  • Comment number 9.

    To try to answer some of the questions here:
    Will we go above 56kbps? I should point out that the streams are encoded in HE-AAC, which performs much better than MP3 at lower bitrates (for an MP3 this would sound pretty terrible), but after a lot of testing, on a lot of phones, with various qualities of network coverage, this proved to be the best option. Any higher and we'd be causing excessive buffering issues for those on EDGE/GPRS, and inconsistent experience on lower-speed 3G connections. We wanted to make sure to make this available as widely as possible. This doesn't mean we won't consider higher bitrate alternatives in the future though.
    Is this RTSP? Yes. With alternative access routes (SDP or direct to RTSP, depending on device support). Another solution is in development for the devices which don't support RTSP, which we may make available more widely where it offers an improved experience.
    Can't see the link to listen on Shaun Keaveny's page? Try going directly to the 6 music homepage, www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/6music. You should see the link there.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    Someone else said on Facebook that it doesn't work on iPhones.

    I've had another look at the page, I can see the Webcam link but definitely no Listen Live link.

  • Comment number 12.

    Does anybody have any suggestions for the setup to get this working on a Nokia E51 (Symbian S60 v3), over wi-fi? At present, following the "listen now" link just loads up the RealAudio player, which either times out or says "unable to connect".

    Secondly, any suggestions on how to get it to work on a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet (Maemo)? Following the link loads the video player (even for radio), but no content is found.

    Thirdly, anybody got it working on a PC running Ubuntu Linux 9.10? On there, with either Media Player or VLC there is again no content.

    So the first three devices here I've tried don't work. :-(

    I was driven to trying this out because of the new message on the existing, fully working, Realaudio stream for Radio 4 which says it will dropped soon, so I need to find something that works as a replacement (most of the devices don't have Flash so can't use the iplayer - that's heavy on bandwidth anyway).

    In all cases, I've tested with the "listen now" link on https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/listen.mp


  • Comment number 13.

    I'm having trouble getting it to work on Web OS on my palm pre.

  • Comment number 14.

    Tried this out today with my iPod Touch but no luck. The Listen Live buttons are not visible.

  • Comment number 15.

    Nothing from the BBC, including the live radio described, works on my HTC HD2 over a wireless or 3G network. The Streaming Player starts and just hangs on 0% whilst buffering, before timing out. Is there some sort of DRM that's locking things up??

  • Comment number 16.

    Getting same problem as dukeofearl on my Samsung Jet but I can connect via wifi. This has been the case for months so I had hoped this news might change things.
    I'm on a vodafone contract, I've tried different APNs for http, wap, pay-as-you go and contract settings and still no luck even in very strong 3G areas.

  • Comment number 17.

    Please note, as explained in the article, that these streams will not work on iPhone/iPod Touch, as these devices are not capable of handling RTSP served, 3GPP streams at present via the browser.
    We've heard positive reports regarding a number of 3rd party apps which offer live radio, including networks from the BBC (although none of these are directly supported by the BBC, and hence we cannot vouch for the service they provide).
    We are working on a solution for these devices which may also provide a better experience for some of the other devices mentioned here (we tried as many phones as we could get our hands on - but not all unfortunately).
    In the meantime, iPhone/iPod Touch users can access the BBC iPlayer for on-demand access to previously broadcast programmes, via https://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile/iplayer.
    Your feedback is appreciated and will help us to improve this service over the coming months.

  • Comment number 18.

    Apps such as TuneIn for Iphone give access to these feeds (and 1000s more) too for those who can't wait.

    Unfortunately none (esp local radio feeds) will let us listen to the football that the BBC doesn't have internet broadcasting rites for :(

  • Comment number 19.

    "we tried as many phones as we could get our hands on" - did you test on any Symbian S60 phones (Nokia)? As I mentioned above, doesn't seem to work on the Nokia E51, although maybe it just needs a change of settings.

    What actually would be useful would be a list of phones it's known to work on. Then users would know if it's just an untested phone, or their settings.

    Better still of course would be a simple webpage with the main radio stations listed on it with simple links to each type of stream available (RealAudio, Windows-specific, etc). Example: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] . Rather than trying to encapsulate that information in an untested format.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great news!

    Can anyone recommend the best place to link directly to the streams now? (for use on android milestone. like to launch stations directly from my home screen if i can.)

    - enjoying the Max Headroom style voices on 5 live at the moment but novelty might were off. Presumably these are buffer issues? - happening on wifi and 3g (more so on 3g).

    Nevertheless, wonderful to have all my favourite stations to hand whenever I need them. More and more I find myself consuming radio over TV.

  • Comment number 21.

    Also handy to know if there are still likely to be issues with rights when broadcasting commentary on 5 live etc. I believe certain providers have problems because they can't guarantee the user is in the Uk?

    I've also seen situations where the 'listen live' link on station homepages (Radio Scotland in particular) wont broadcast for rights reasons but the commentary is available in a link on the relevant sports page.

    Hopefully both things of the past...?

  • Comment number 22.

    Great. So I can stream stuff to my phone, no doubt at an extortionate cost in mobile charges, but I can no longer listen on my internet radio (or at least not if I want to pause, rewind or fast forward!)
    With one hand you give, with the other you take way...
    Clearly backwards compatibility doesn't mean much to the Beeb...

  • Comment number 23.

    Just wondering why the mobile iplayer will not work overseas to enable us expats to listen to bbc radio on our phones.

  • Comment number 24.

    This is great news, but listening to these streams is really annoying on my Android phone.

    The links you provide work perfectly, but they open in the 'Streaming Media Player' on my phone, which closes when you try to leave it (which I think includes locking the phone to put it in your pocket, though I can't check 'cos the streams not working now!). This might be sensible for videos (which I believe this app is really designed for), but for radio on my mobile, I'd like to continue listening while I use the other features of my phone.

    I've tried a few third-party streaming media apps, but none fully support this .sdp format you've used to describe the streams. Is it possible to get the raw rtsp:// link, so I can try it with these players?

    What would be great is a BBC app for this… Something very simple that lets you switch stations, and minimises without stopping the stream.

    Many thanks for your efforts though. I'm sure it was no easy task finding a method that works on so many handsets!

  • Comment number 25.

    wow,it is good news!I love this mobile

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  • Comment number 26.

    Well, it's great when it works. I live abroad, and use my Iphone to listen, using either the FStream or the RadioBox app. Most of the time, it works, but for the last few days in the mornings, it's not been able to connect to anything the BBC has on offer. Neither do the Radio Streams work, nor does Safari find the BBC, nor does the BBC app work. Is there a limit to how many people from abroad are allowed to connect???

    Another thing I find annoying, but which is probably nothing the BBC can do anything about: I cannot understand why the BBC blanks out quite a lot of international sports commnentary (yes, I know it's rights reasons, but bear with me), whereas France Info has no qualms of broadcasting, say, World Cup commentaries to the world via the Internet (I do not live in France, so it's not as if I'm listening to their domestic output via the local, French, mobile network). Do they pay something the BBC doesn't pay???

    Anyhow, I really, really, love listening to Radio 4, and that's why I am so annoyed that the streams don't work in the mornings...

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 29.

    I have been listening to BBC radio 4 on my REVO digital radio for a couple of months here in the Netherlands. A week ago all BBC stations became unavailable although the radio still picks up World Service and other international stations. My PC and other digital radio (Phillips Streamium) still work perfectly. REVO have told me that this is a problem with the BBC but I can get no further information or help. Is there a soultion to this problem. Any help appreciated


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