Blaupunkt introduces Streaming Radio receiver at CES

Dean Takarashi of VentureBeat reports today in the New York Times that Blaupunkt, the German maker of automotive electronics, is introducing an aftermarket car radio that provides the ability to receive streaming radio via bluetooth and a 3G connection on your cell phone:

"With a push of a button, you can switch from AM/FM radio stations to tens of thousands of Internet radio stations. You can browse by country, genre, station and keyword. You can also go to the web portal with a PC and instruct your device to play only certain preset radio stations. That cuts down on the browsing time. If you don’t want to do that, you can cruise through the top 100 feature on

The radio gets its music streamed in real time via a Bluetooth connection from the radio to your 3G cell phone. I’m not sure it’s going to work, given the spottiness of 3G coverage in the U.S. But you have to give them credit for trying something ambitious. The Blaupunkt guy told me that if you’re speeding fast, you will need higher bandwidth to make sure the radio reception doesn’t get choppy. There may be a reason no one has tried Internet radio in the car before, but if it works, it’s going to change the landscape for players like XM Sirius satellite radio.

It will cost $349 to $399 in the U.S. when it ships in the second half of the year. There will be two versions, one that occupies a single radio deck in a car and another that occupies two. It’s not clear whether Blaupunkt will charge a subscription fee or will make it avaiable for free."

Now, aside from the fact that this particular implementation seems a little "Rube Goldberg," the fact that a major aftermarket car radio manufacturer is introducing such a device is a big thing.

The time is coming closer where if a terrestrial broadcaster doesn't have a strategy for streaming their audio, they will be severely impacted by lack of exposure to the mobile audience. Of course, if a broadcaster sticks to a very local strategy, then this won't matter. But - imagine a local AM station having the ability to keep a listener from awakening in the morning to bed time at night, with a signal that reaches their audience at home, in the car on their commute way outside the AM's coverage area, in the office streaming on their PC or on an IP-enabled desktop radio, on the homebound commute, and finally back at home again. Couple that with the potential for interactivity provided by IP radio and you have a potent mix.

So - where does this put HD Radio? As much as I love what some stations are doing with HD Radio, it has little to do with the technology (aside from providing more audio channels) and everything to do with content. If companies like Blaupunkt roll out streaming radio receivers for cars, what's the real advantage to a radio station for investing in HD Radio? With IP radio streamed into the car, you can have all the advantages of HD Radio without the license fees to Ibiquity. And, this advantage accrues not just to the broadcaster, but to the manufacturer as well. It appears that technology and economics may be passing HD Radio by.