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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Wi-fi device aims to free web radio
By Aaron Scullion
BBC News Online staff

A device which allows people to listen to internet radio without a PC has been developed by a UK company.

A prototype of Reciva's Wireless Internet Radio
Reciva's wi-fi radio can play Real, Windows, MP3 and Ogg streams
The radio, currently a working prototype, makes online radio easier to use, and could change listening habits.

When a wireless network is available, the radio connects to the internet, making thousands of stations available at the touch of a button.

However the company behind the device fears that a lack of understanding from manufacturers could stop the radio from reaching the market.

How it works

As the internet has grown in popularity since the 1990s, so has online radio, as technology has improved and broadband connections have become more readily available.

But people still need a computer hooked up to the net and the right software to take advantage of many of the services provided.

Mass market manufacturers don't really understand internet radio
Trevor Goldberg, Reciva
The Wireless Internet Radio, developed by British company Reciva, is designed to overcome some of these technical hurdles by making online radio as easy to use as DAB digital radio.

When a wireless network is available, the radio connects almost immediately to the internet, and downloads a database of available stations from a central server.

This process currently takes less than a minute, after which time listeners are given the option to choose stations by location or genre.

When the listener makes a selection, a list of available stations comes up in the radio's display, which can then be scanned and selected using a dial.

For broadcasters such as the BBC which provide an archive of on-demand shows, the radio allows listeners to select either a specific show or the live broadcast.

The radio can handle any broadcasts that use Real, Windows Media, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis formats.

Getting to market

Reciva have had many inquiries from people around the world who want to buy, or even just trial, one of the radios, according to sales and marketing director Trevor Goldberg.

A close up of the Wireless Internet Radio
The radio's controls are similar to those on a DAB digital radio
However, the company feel they need the backing of a major manufacturer to make the product a success.

"Some audio manufacturers are extremely excited about our technology. But mass market manufacturers don't really understand internet radio and what it can deliver," Mr Goldberg told the BBC.

"Even when it is explained, internet radio is simply compared to DAB digital radio, and we can't compete on cost right now. The manufacturers think it is too early."

Reciva are considering selling the radio themselves, but ideally want the backing of an established company.

"We are currently considering offering a whole product for around 120. But what we need is for a recognised manufacturer to take the risk and commit to buying our module to put into a new product."

Future of radio

Reciva had a positive response from established broadcasters, but say some are concerned about issues such as the cost of bandwidth.

Virgin Radio's website, which provides broadband-quality online streams
We'll work with ISPs to enable high-quality internet radio listening
James Cridland, Virgin Radio
However, many radio stations already provide broadband internet streams, which provide sound quality which is at least as good as that available via conventional radio.

One of those - the UK's Virgin Radio - is positive about the development of internet radio.

"Any device which pulls internet radio away from a computer and more into the living room/kitchen would have significant benefits," said James Cridland, managing editor of Virgin Radio's website.

Mr Cridland confirmed that bandwidth costs could become an issue, but said the important thing was to get as many people listening to the station's output as possible.

"We're constantly looking at bandwidth costs, but we'll continue to work together with ISPs across the UK to enable high-quality internet radio listening."

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