Telecoms should unlock FM radio on smartphones, city councillor says

Mayor John Tory's executive committee will consider whether the City of Toronto should ask telecom companies to activate the FM radio chip inside Android smartphones.

Motion follows launch of Canadian campaign to get telecoms to free up Android capability

Councillor Mary Fragedakis wants the FM function unlocked on smartphones (CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory's executive committee is expected to consider a motion Tuesday calling on the city to ask telecom companies to activate the FM radio chip inside Android smartphones.

Coun. Mary Fragedakis, who presented the motion, understands why telecom companies may not be rushing to turn on the free FM radio function in their smartphones.

"Obviously, there is a lot of money to be made in data usage, but this issue is more about the safety of the public," said Fragedakis, who represents Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth.

Fragedakis says in the event of an emergency, like a blackout or natural disaster, accessing FM radio through your cell phone can provide vital information.   

Greg O'Brien, publisher of Cartt — a telecommunications trade journal — says it also makes sense for consumers.

"It doesn't hit your data plan, and it's a lot easier on your battery to just use our phone as a radio."

'No special activation'

At least one Canadian cell provider, Bell Canada, says it's already offering this service.

"FM radio is widely available on many smartphones in its device line-up, including  Samsung, HTC and BlackBerry. Other than requiring a tethered headset that acts as an antenna to provide clear reception, FM radio service requires no special activation," Bell wrote in an email to CBC Toronto.

In a statement to CBC Toronto, Rogers said, "We're always looking to offer our customers new features on their devices and many devices on our network already have FM chips enabled. We've asked manufacturers to enable FM chips on more devices; however, ultimately, the decision to enable the feature lies solely with the manufacturers."

But In a written statement from Telus, the company says: "Such functionality resides with the manufacturers of the different devices. Should the motion pass, Telus will review the details of the request."

The motion follows the launch of a campaign in Canada late last year to get telecoms to activate the FM chips.

A campaign that launched in Canada ;late last year is pushing telecom companies to activate the FM chips in their smartphones. (NextRadio)

But in case a city motion doesn't carry enough weight with telecom giants, Fragedakis says the motion also asks the federal government to get involved to force the activation of the FM chips.

"There is a secondary recommendation to ask the government of Canada to take steps necessary so that these FM chips are activated and to launch an education campaign to make Canadians aware of how to use FM radio capacity on their smartphones."

The service is already widespread in the United States.  At least four major U.S. wireless providers, including Sprint, AT&T and T-mobile have "turned on" the FM chip in their phones, but so far the free service is not available for those with Apple devices.