FM radio in your phone is about to make a comeback, if AT&T gets its way

att says it shouldnt have to pay a fine for throttling unlimited customers headquarters logo
Modern smartphones are filled to the brim with sensors, radios, and all sorts of other wireless gadgetry. Despite the odd exception here and there, chances are your handset of choice sports NFC, Wi-Fi, and cellular capabilities at the very least. But one thing it’s likely missing is FM radio, because smartphone giants have long declined to enable the requisite chipsets in their top-end smartphones.

That’ll change, though, if AT&T has its way. Next year, the carrier will request that handset makers support FM radio on its network. The new policy aims to switch on FM radio “on as many [AT&T] devices as possible” according to NextRadio, AT&T’s strategic rollout partner. If all goes according to plan, it’ll be a seamless transition: newer smartphones will ship with FM hardware activated, and older handsets will get the functionality in over-the-air updates.

The move to enable FM on phones is surprising for AT&T, who (along with other carriers) benefits from encouraging customers to rely on data-hungry streaming apps for radio content. It’s possible that AT&T intends an ad revenue arrangement with NextRadio —  the company codes branded radio apps — but the carrier may simply be caving to longstanding demands of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

The group, which applauded AT&T’s announcement today, argues that the benefits of FM are threefold: it saves device power, provides a public safety cushion in the event of a widespread data outage, and grants access to local broadcasts not otherwise reachable. “Today marks a new beginning in mobile technology with the agreement by a global iconic brand, AT&T, to light up the FM receiver chips in all of its future Android smartphones,” a spokesperson for NAB said.

Broadcasters ultimate ambition is to enable FM radio across flagship phones, and they’re moving steadily along. Sprint partnered with NextRadio in 2013 to, like AT&T, make a concerted push for FM hardware and apps on smartphones. “We already have experienced handset makers activating [FM radio] across all carriers (for example, new models of HTC One and Moto phones) and AT&T’s request fuels the support,” said NextRadio in a statement.

But the road ahead won’t necessarily be easy. Phone manufacturers argue that the cost of FM and low listening numbers justify its exclusion. “Our studies show a trend shift of interest in digital broadcasting — namely, the focus on listening to music content on social networks or on YouTube,” Samsung told Russian publication Mail.ru in 2013. “The flagship model to our devices is targeted at consumers who use digital content, modern formats and channels of information consumption.”

AT&T’s new FM policy is a suggestion, not a directive — device giants like Samsung and LG are free continue releasing smartphones with FM chips disabled. But if radio operators’ plans do end up coming to fruition, your current/next phone may be able to tap into a wealth programming sans data.

Product Review

Motorola’s excellent One Vision is cheap phone royalty

If Motorola’s mission with the One Vision was to make a dependable, capable smartphone at a price that’s affordable, then it’s definitely mission accomplished. Here’s our full review.
Deals

Best smartphone deals for June 2019: iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and LG

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $900.
Mobile

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 has smart card-equivalent security certification

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 is Qualcomm's flagship processor for the year, and it's available in a range of smartphones. Now, the chip is certified with a smart card equivalent security rating.
Mobile

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2019

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.
Mobile

The best gardening apps help you watch your garden grow

It takes work, commitment, and smarts to cultivate a beautiful garden or grow your own food, so you need all the help you can get. The best gardening apps can identify plants and pests and assist with garden care and planting schedules.
Mobile

Here are 5 things I’d like to see in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It's important that smartphones continue to improve and evolve or they risk stagnation and may alienate potential buyers. Here are five changes and new features I'd like to see in Samsung's forthcoming Galaxy Note 10 smartphone.
News

FTC and authorities crack down on companies responsible for 1 billion robocalls

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and law enforcement officials announced a new crackdown against illegal robocalls on Tuesday, targeting companies responsible for over a billion of the annoying calls. 
Mobile

iOS 13 is here. Here's how to get it on your iPhone or iPod Touch

The iOS 13 public beta has been released, giving you a chance to try out iOS 13's new features. But how do you download Apple's latest software? Here's our guide on how to download the iOS 13 public beta.
Mobile

Here's how to download iPadOS on your favorite Apple tablet

Interested in getting the latest and greatest software on your iPad? If you want iPadOS, you'll need to be okay with using the public beta, which is likely to have bugs. Here's how to install iPadOS on your iPad.
News

U.S. tech firms continue sales to Huawei despite Trump administration ban

U.S. chipmakers -- Intel, Micron, and others -- have quietly continued doing business with Huawei despite a ban on American sales to the Chinese telecom giant imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department in May.
Deals

Amazon Prime Day 2019: Official start date, predictions, and the best deals now

Amazon Prime Day 2019 is going to be on July 15 and July 16. We've been taking a look at the best discounts from previous Prime Days to give you our predictions of what this massive 2-day event will entail.
Mobile

Oppo’s exciting new tech hides the selfie camera under the phone screen

Oppo has revealed impressive new technology where it can hide the selfie camera on a smartphone beneath the display itself, taking its devices another step closer to providing an unspoiled and completely immersive viewing experience.
Mobile

Vivo’s new charging tech rockets phone battery to full in only 13 minutes

Vivo has made another leap forward in battery charging technology with the introduction of Super FlashCharge 120w, which is capable of sending enough power through to your phone’s battery cell to recharge it in only 13 minutes.
Wearables

Xiaomi’s Mi Smart Band 4 is a desirable, cheap fitness band/smartwatch mashup

Xiaomi has announced the availability of the Mi Smart Band 4 in the U.K., which despite a low price, manages to squeeze in a massive amount of functionality, bridging the gap between fitness band and smartwatch.