RealTime IT News

Turkey Tunes In To Visual Radio

Radio meets cell phone.

This unlikely pair is finding support in Turkey, where Turkcell, the country's leading GSM operator, announced this week it has signed an agreement with Nokia and HP to roll out "visual radio" service. Turkcell subscribers will be able to download visual content related to the radio broadcast, receive detailed information and graphics about a song, and participate in quizzes.

Nokia introduced its visual radio concept in 2003. The idea was that mobile phone users could receive FM radio broadcasts synchronized with interactive visuals and text on their handsets. In April 2004, the Finnish cell phone maker announced a partnership with HP to build a new Web service for mobile phones.

Visual radio allows listeners to tune in to local FM radio via their mobile phones while simultaneously receiving interactive information and graphics that are synchronized with the broadcast. Users can also create a personalized archive on their mobile phones. The Finnish Kiss FM became the first radio station to enable visual radio in March of this year; the service will be available in Turkey in 2006.

Nokia offers over a dozen handsets with built-in FM receivers that it says are visual radio-capable; detailed descriptions are available at its Visualradio.com Web site. Nokia estimates there will be over 100 million phones capable of receiving visual radio by the end of 2006. Whether they get the service is up to the operators of the mobile networks, as well as FM radio stations that typically depend on advertiser support.

One advantage for advertisers is that visual radio offers instant feedback about the success of campaigns by using the mobile phone networks as a back channel, something direct broadcast radio can't do.

Nokia lays claim to being the largest portable FM radio manufacturer in the world. "In the future, we will just replace the FM function with visual, which is everything people had before, plus more," said Tommi Mustonen, Nokia's director of visual radio, in a statement earlier this year. "Radio is alive and kicking and growing in importance. We are building on top of that by enabling listeners to see what they hear."

Last February, HP renewed and expanded its contract with Nokia. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal is estimated to be worth $400 million. Under the agreement, HP manages the IT infrastructure and operations for the cell phone giant at all of its locations. The new agreement tacked on an additional five years to the companies' existing three-year relationship.

Nokia has said it intends to make visual radio available to other handset manufacturers.