What’s the difference between digital and internet radio?

Internet radio means listeners now have access to thousands of radio stations from around the world. You can listen to voices and music from distant countries or simply stay in touch with news from home.

Both digital radios and internet radios have their advantages, and several models offer both modes at the press of a button.

A factor in favor of DAB digital radio is that it doesn’t require an internet connection. Around 95% of the UK can receive the BBC’s digital stations with a DAB digital radio, and a further fourteen digital stations are available in 90% of the country. In contrast in parts of East Anglia, the North West, North East, Wales and Scotland up to 16% of internet users are getting speeds of less than 2Mbit/s from their broadband. This can make listening to radio online difficult, particularly if others are also using the connection.

The price of DAB digital radios has fallen in recent years to as low as £15 or £20. The cheapest internet radios (sometimes called wifi radios) often cost much more. However, many free apps are available for smartphones and tablets for live radio listening.

Radio has proven itself as somewhere we can turn for information in an emergency or during severe weather. Small digital radios can be battery powered and radio transmitters are set up to cope with bad weather and power cuts. Whilst speed and reliability are improving there are still localised broadband outages in the UK every month.

Finally, internet radio can also be costly on a mobile data plan if you exceed the allowance in your contract. If your smartphone has a built-in radio tuner this is preferable to using an internet radio app as it will not normally use up your data allowance or incur additional charges.

Internet radio does represent a significantly wider choice of stations and programmes. With a digital radio you might receive one classical station and one jazz station, whilst an internet radio will offer hundreds catering to niche tastes.

Often internet radio stations are streamed in high quality and with more information about the programme and music that’s being listened to. An internet radio is also a great way of listening to stations from outside the UK, such as Ireland’s Today FM or Radio 10 from the Netherlands, all without leaving a laptop open or smartphone on the table.

Most internet radios can also play on-demand programmes or podcasts. This means you can listen to Radio 4’s Friday night comedy at any time without having to switch the computer on or listen through a small smartphone speaker.


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