The mobile phone has increasingly become the device of choice and is pushing other devices into the margins. That’s largely due to capacity and functionality having increased tremendously so that the mobile phone is now capable of much more than just making phone calls and sending and receiving text messages. Phones are now commonly used for internet access, playing games and listening to music.
Radio Capability on Mobile Phones
Several phones are manufactured with an FM radio receiver built in and a few also support AM radio. However, with the popularity of DAB radio growing and the UK government being expected to switch off FM transmissions at some point in the future, it was anticipated that mobile phones would provide DAB radio support. This would allow you to receive DAB radio on your phone without using the internet. However, this has never really happened.
The first (and only) modern smartphone to feature a DAB tuner was the LG Stylus 2, which launched in Spring 2016. This phone was never supplied in the US, which uses the HD radio standard rather than DAB, but was instead sold in the UK, other European countries and Australia.
The Stylus 2 supported DAB+, which was widely used across Europe at the time but was not so common the UK, regular DAB still being the digital standard. However, a DAB+ receiver can decode and play both DAB and DAB+ broadcasts and so is able to pick up transmissions across around 90% of the country.
Prior to the LG Stylus 2, Virgin launched the Mobile Lobster 700TV in 2006, which had DAB and even TV support, the latter through the now defunct BT Movio service. The Nokia N8 and other models also apparently provided DAB support via a Nokia CU-17A digital radio headset, which launched in 2011 and connected through the USB port.
Despite the continuing development of DAB radio and the expected switchover to the standard eventually, no new phones feature DAB support and those that did have now been discontinued. They are likely only to be available as second-hand versions, possibly from eBay or similar sites.
Alternative Options for DAB Radio on Mobile Phones
The lack of availability of DAB receivers on mobile phones is widely thought to be due to manufacturers preferring customers to use streaming services or radio apps to listen to music and other transmissions.
The downside is that, whereas DAB receivers don’t require an internet connection and so don’t use data from your monthly allowance, apps certainly do affect your data allowance unless you have a WiFi connection. Loading an app on your device can therefore cost you money if your monthly data allowance isn’t high enough. You can, for example, load the BBC iPlayer Radio to listen to BBC national and local radio stations although this can impinge on your data usage allowance.
This will, of course, provide further income for mobile phone network operators and may be one of the reasons they don’t provide DAB receivers on mobile phones. Indeed, the iPhone has never had a radio tuner and there seems little prospect of one being introduced.
Another alternative is a DAB dongle such as POPyourPHONE, which plugs into the micro USB socket of your phone or other mobile device and receives DAB transmissions via a connected antenna. It’s a bit cumbersome and will be difficult to get hold of in the UK since it’s aimed at the Norwegian market.