Internet radio on your mobile phone at the football – does it work?
Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 1:34 pm. #
As the football season gets underway again, it’s interesting to think about the many people who listen to the radio while watching a match.
The enjoyment of watching football is normally enhanced rather well by listening to the commentary on a radio. The commentators generally have a better view, and have a wealth of research that keeps you informed. And, of course, when it gets later in the season, it becomes important to monitor the radio to get the other scores.
We’re repeatedly told by technology journalists – or some radio analysts – that the future of radio is online through a mobile phone. So, let’s see how this works for listening to the radio in a football match.
A football ground is a comparatively small area to squeeze a lot of people in. Manchester United’s ground, for example, fits around
55,000 75,000 people. In and around Old Trafford football ground (M16 0RA), there are five mobile phone masts: all owned and operated by Vodafone (who once sponsored the Manchester United shirts). If you’re on another network, there’s an Orange, Three and T-Mobile mast a quarter of a kilometer away, on the A56; and on the other side of the canal there’s an O2 mast.
Including Tesco Mobile, which uses its network, O2 has a 29% market share: and if Manchester United fans are representative of the market as a whole, that means 21,750 people are connected to that cellsite.
A typical 3G cellsite has, according to Fujitsu, 21 meg of bandwidth available to it (fig3). 21 meg doesn’t appear to go particularly far between 16,000 people. O2′s setup appears to have three frequencies at the same cellsite, which might mean 63 meg is available in total – if I’m right, that means 2.8kbps for everyone. Assuming the cellsites can manage. Which it looks as if, in the real world, they can’t – even for dull things like posting tweets.
A posting on the Vodafone forum appears to suggest that data connections are regularly shut off near football stadiums. On the O2 forum, it appears even SMS’s have issues: and internet is ‘really poor’, according to the poster. And he’s – heh – in Old Trafford.
So, capacity is clearly an issue. Any chances of listening to internet radio, via a mobile phone, in a football ground? I’d be surprised if it were possible.
But even if it were: would you want to? In many cases, internet broadcasting adds a significant delay to the audio. Advanced radio apps like TuneIn Radio buffer the audio inside your phone, to even out connection problems: which only means the audio is even later. Listening to commentary five seconds out of synch with what you can see on the pitch is hardly a good experience. Even if you can get the audio after all.
So: what’s the future for fans who want commentary in the sports ground?
It’s kind of got to be broadcast radio, hasn’t it? FM, AM, or DAB are all virtually instantaneous, and have no capacity problems. Listening for two hours won’t flatten your mobile battery, either. Can the data-connected mobile phone ever replace this technology?
(Going to the match this weekend? I’d be really interested in your real-world experiences. Please do post them below.)