Broadband access in the home has become the norm in American households. According to a study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project conducted in April of this year, 63 percent of adult Americans indicate they now have some form of broadband Internet connections at home. That figure is up substantially from the 54 percent level registered by a similar survey taken at the close of 2007 and suggests that broadband is on pace to become ubiquitous in U.S. household in the short term.
It's no surprise, then, that dedicated Wi-fi radios have transcended their origin as an uber-geek novelty to a teeming market niche with more than 40 models available. And that's not taking into account a burgeoning assortment of advanced handsets that can accommodate Internet radio/Wi-fi apps.
The range of products is diverse. Old school audiophiles can purchase a Sangean Wi-fi radio tuner that looks very much like a typical FM/AM model with stereo RCA line outputs. Traditional desktop models abound, some in stereo, others in mono and most with traditional clock/alarm functionality. For those who like a little punch in their audio, V Tech offers the IS9181 with 3W stereo front speakers and a 10W subwoofer. If you want a portable that moves around the house with you, the Revo Pico's diminutive size and rechargeable batteries could be the ticket. In fact, an electronic hobbyist blog recently published a do-it-yourself project for converting an old wireless router into a Wi-fi radio for under $100.
And die-hard IBOC digital radio supporters will be thrilled to learn they can now have HD Radio and Wi-fi access in one compact box. The new Sonoro elements W from Germany reportedly combines Wi-fi, HD Radio and Ipod functionality, all in a single, stylish package. And a new entry from Kogan bundles analog AM/FM on board.
So who's buying Wi-Fi radios? In general, dedicated Internet appliances are not flying off the shelves the way a lot of manufacturers and vendors had hoped, but the trade in Wi-fi radios seems to be building. Anecdotally, this writer knows several people who own them, and none fit the geek profile. One bought his so he could listen to MLB baseball games without the noise on AM or the expense of a satellite radio subscription. Another uses it to track world newscasts from the BBC and other international broadcasters he used to monitor via shortwave. And the last uses it to access public radio programming not available on her local NPR affiliate. All say they're satisfied with their purchase.
Thus, it's content and quality that appear to be driving the Wi-fi radio trend. And as broadband becomes available in virtually every home and more stations upgrade their streams to AAC, look for that momentum to build, as those who still rely on radio turn to the Internet for home delivery of content.