With internet access, many additional sources of audio and video programming are available. Pandora, IHeartRadio, Spotify, YouTube, Napster, Tidal, AppleMusic and a host of other streaming media services can all be accessed with an internet connection.
At home, you may access these services using a broadband connection to the internet. You may have audio equipment that's connected directly to the cable (your home audio system) or you may have audio products that connect wirelessly to a WiFi router to receive the audio signal. Alternately, you may choose to stream the program to your phone using your mobile data plan and then stream the audio signal to the speaker using the Bluetooth transmitter in your phone.
Since a broadband connection over cable isn't an option in a car, you'll have to access the internet using mobile data. The most popular way to access internet content in the car is by using the mobile data plan for your smartphone. Alternately, a few new aftermarket head units include the ability to connect to the internet by plugging in a USB modem, just like you would plug one into a laptop. Some radios will connect via WiFi to a mobile hotspot. In that scenario, the hotspot would receive data from the internet and other devices in the car could receive the data via a WiFi connection to the hotspot.
Because you'll access the internet using a mobile data plan, it's important to consider the amount of data that you believe you'll use and purchase a plan that will accommodate your listening habits. Many of the streaming services stream the data at different rates depending on the kind of connection you make. At home and over a cable modem, the service may stream at 320kBPS, but over a mobile data connection, the stream will be lower resolution. Depending on the bit rate, the sound quality may suffer, but you'll use less data.
To get an idea of how much data you'll need to purchase to support your music streaming habit, consider that a 10GB data plan will allow you to stream the best resolution available (320kB/second) for about 70 hours if that's all you do with your phone. Data consumption rates for video are much higher.
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Satellite radio subscription service offers hundreds of commercial free channels with all kinds of programming. Music channels are arranged by genre. Talk radio, sports programming and news is available too. Although satellite radio offers specialized programming and hundreds of channels, just like cable at home, your local AM and FM channels aren't available via satellite. You'll need to use the traditional radio in your car to access those.
Many radios, including the factory installed radio in your car are "satellite ready". That means you can add satellite radio without having to replace the head unit. In some cases, an additional tuner is required, and that tuner can simply be plugged in and controlled by the head unit once your subscription is active. If your head unit isn't satellite ready, you can add satellite radio with a satellite vehicle kit. The vehicle kit includes a satellite tuner and antenna that are installed in addition to your head unit. The audio signal from the vehicle kit is connected to the car's audio system by plugging it into an available aux input jack. Alternately, an FM transmitter can be used to send the sound from the satellite kit to the factory installed radio. This connection scheme should be considered a last resort, especially in areas where the FM band is full of stations as sound quality is often not stellar.
You can also access satellite radio programming with your smartphone using an app. See more about this in the subsequent section, "Connecting Your Phone".
If you're a satellite radio enthusiast, opt for the dedicated satellite tuner designed to work with your head unit, whether it's the factory installed unit or an aftermarket unit. Sound quality and signal reliability will be best and using it will be more convenient.