Radio Streaming on the Road

Once upon a time, cassettes, CDs and then memory sticks were ‘ the thing’ in the car apart from the good old (broadcast) radio. On longer trips, the downside of broadcast radio always is that sooner or later, you leave the coverage area of a station. In the age of the mobile Internet, that’s no longer a problem: Simply stream your favorite radio stations from the other end of the world over the Internet on your mobile device while driving, and pipe it via Bluetooth to the car’s entertainment system. So how good does that work in practice?

I haven’t been in planes or even trains for the past one and a half years thanks to the pandemic, and instead opted to take the car, even for long trips. So apart from podcasts, listening to my favorite radio stations while driving has become ‘a thing’ again. In Germany and surrounding countries, LTE coverage along highways is pretty good these days, and streams run smooth and without problems. I can only remember very few occasions on long trips where the audio streams were actually interrupted for a few seconds due to a coverage hole. In other words, radio streaming while driving large distances has become totally possible.

The bandwidth requirements of audio streams are typically 64 or 128 kbit/s plus some TCP/IP overhead, so this even works in very congested cells and at coverage edges. Even at 128 kbit/s, radio streaming can be considered as a ‘low-bandwidth’ application today, and such a stream with overhead does not require more than around 70 MB per hour.

For the moment, I am using VLC, ‘the’ program for everything video and audio, to stream my favorite radio stations. Yes, it can do that on Android, see the screenshot above! But there are probably open source apps dedicated to streaming with a nicer user interface.

I’m not sure how well this works in other parts of the world, where inter-cell distances on highways are much higher than here. If you have experience with radio streaming while driving in other parts of the world, please leave a comment!

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