With the proliferation of smart devices, tech innovators have been experimenting with different technologies to bring every individual a unique, personal experience. The concept of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) spans across many applications and is especially prominent in the UC and collaboration industry. But how about audio solutions that also make use of these smart devices to deliver a personal auditory experience while you are on the go?

Recent innovations saw solutions where users can connect their smart phones and tablets via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC etc., to a digital signage they see on the street or a public TV in a pub/museum and stream live audio from it. Instead of blasting loud audio in public spaces, these BYOD solutions provide a more personal, audible sound experience.

So what are the bene ts of this BYOD Audio solution and what should you consider before implementing such technology in your premises? SI Asia’s Shireen Ho gathered the thoughts of key players in the eld for this special feature.

Personal Audio Experience
We have heard a lot about BYOD these days. BYOD to meetings, BYOD to lectures, BYOD to work etc, but the BYOD technology we are talking about here is one that enhances your personal audio experience.

• Have you ever been in a sports bar, gym or even an airport waiting area where there are multiple TV screens playing different content but with the audio switched off or barely audible?

• Have you ever been in a foreign museum or attraction where the commentary is in a language you don’t understand and wish there’s something you can do about it?

From an end-user point of view, it is likely that they will think, ‘Surely, all the venue operators need to do is to install more headphones, buy more audio guides or hire translators etc’. But often for venue operators, that is just not commercially viable due to budget constraints and practicality – so what can you do?

To address these concerns and improve the experience of their customers, an increasing number of venue operators have been turning to BYOD audio over Wi-Fi as a solution.

“Whether it is in the gym or bar, people these days are much more careful with their Android or iPhone than they are with public equipments,” said Lance Glasser, President of Audio Everywhere, a leading provider of systems that stream audio over Wi-Fi.

“In my gym, the maintenance person replaces about 20 jacks a month on broken public equipment. Also the economies of scale make the device you have in your pocket superior to anything else you can buy for twice the money.”

Credit: Sennheiser
Credit: Sennheiser

Opening Up Opportunities
Not that it was not impossible a decade earlier, but streaming audio over Wi-Fi to your mobile devices can be costly and the experience can be poor due to subpar internet connection. It’s not like we had 4G right from the start so that means GPRS was all we’ve got at the time.

Flash forward to present day, wireless technology has come a long way and so have mobile devices. According to IDC, the world’s mobile worker population has reached 1.3 billion in 20151. With Asia Paci c consumers accounted for half of the mobile phones shipped globally at 527 million by 20151, mobile devices have become a necessity for many. Combine that with the fact that developing a mobile app is so simple these days – thanks to the open communities around the world who would gladly share their knowledge and experience – it is no wonder that 31% of retailers in Asia Paci c have adopted some kind of mobile/wireless solutions in their stores1.

“We see opportunities with rms in the hospitality and MICE sectors adopting BYOD solutions for small, mid or even large scale meeting events and conferences,” states Vince Tan, Head of System Solutions, Sennheiser Asia. “Entertainment- related businesses involved in lms or theatrical productions can also adopt innovative BYOD audio applications either for enhanced entertainment purposes or assistive listening for various groups of audience.”

Lance also adds, “As BYOD are not only reasonably high delity, but they are also social – In-app messaging, branding, and so forth allows BYOD Audio to deliver far more value than their analog predecessors.”

Boomarang 3How Does it Work?
Solutions like Audio Everywhere and Sennheiser’s MobileConnect offer systems that support audio live streaming functions from TVs, digital signage or any other audio sources, over Wi-Fi to an end-user’s smart phone or tablet.

The system typically comprises of three parts: the app (usually customisable and downloadable on iOS or Android devices); a connecting point that connects the audio sources to local area network in the venue; and a server that manages the overall system.

“(For Audio Everywhere) the heart of the system is the ExXtractor that connects each audio source, such as a DirecTV receiver, to the Ethernet. The system works within the venue’s public Wi-Fi system… Once audio is connected to the ExXtractor, it digitizes and packetizes it and sends it over the local area network and then over the venue’s Wi-Fi,” explains Lance.

For Sennheiser MobileConnect, the core of the solution is a smartphone app that end users can use to connect to a Wi-Fi network.

“When installed at theatres, it can be used to access to additional soundtracks for audio descriptions, language subtitles, or even for assistive listening purposes,” said
Vince. “With the proliferation and adoption of mobile phone applications today, BYOD solution can be used to make communication more inclusive for people from all walks of life.”

Challenges Ahead
With wireless freedom and connectivity being a key trend today, manufacturers now have the task to nd out what are the actual and future standards of connections and wireless transmissions. This is especially crucial for completely wireless systems and there are different challenges involved.

“Things like what kind of wireless transmission should be used (i.e. frequency issues, stable transmission, country speci c frequencies) and what security of wireless transmission (i.e. encryption, transmission range), are questions integrators and end-user clients should ask themselves before implementing these solutions,” asserts Vince.

Besides transmission issues, Lance also shared that basic IT skills are important when it comes to eld deployment of the solution. “The biggest challenge in BYOD audio is dealing with the diversity of digital networks out there. 99% of our issues in the eld are mostly IT-related, which is why it is critical that integrators develop or acquire basic IT skills.”

So for systems integrators quoting a BYOD solution to their customers, what are some considerations or factors they need to take note of?

“First, assuming one picks a great vendor, the biggest issue is the quality and robustness of the Wi-Fi system. The second issue is making sure that one takes into account where the audio sources are located. If it’s in a rack at the back room with an Ethernet tap nearby, you are blessed, but if the receivers are strapped to the back of each TV, then costs will be higher and basic integrator skills such as running balanced audio lines become important,” explained Lance.

Where Is It Going?

Credit: Audio Everywhere
Credit: Audio Everywhere

Lance opines that BYOD Wi-Fi Audio is taking over the fitness/ gym industry. “There are new major adoptions announced everyday,” he said.

“The next market we expect to see mass adoption will be Assistive Listening, where 20th century technologies such as inductive loop, FM radios and IR systems cannot compete with either, the economies of scale of BYOD Audio over Wi-Fi or its ability to deliver additional value (branding, marketing, social) on top of the basic audio delivery.”

Vince also sees a similar type of growth for BYOD Wi-Fi Audio. “The system can be used for hearing support, audio description or language translation. (Within MobileConnect) we have a personal hearing assistant which is developed in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Germany, which provides intuitive sound customisation tools for people with hearing disabilities… With it, we hope to address more and larger target groups that focuses on hearing support.”

In other applications, BYOD audio can also be used to assist attendees of global conferences overcome language barriers. Users can do away with bulky interpreter systems and access live audio interpretations through their own smartphones.

What’s In The Market?
Audio Everywhere and Sennheiser both have solutions for BYOD Audio over Wi-Fi, as well as Williams Sound with their Hearing Hotspot™ and Listen Technology’s ListenWiFi. In our Dec-Jan 2016 issue, we also introduced Citrine, a Singapore-based technology startup for their installation at Gardens By The Bay. Other similar solutions include Flexicast and Eyesync.

Cases of Use
In most cases, the solution has been adopted in sports bars, museums, digital signage in shopping malls and other public spaces. At the same time, there are also instances where BYOD Audio is used for accessible hearing in theatres, operas and musicals.

EMOTIONS, ACCESSIBLY: MobileConnect @ Ernst Deutsch
To provide assistive listening, Ernst Deutsch Theatre in Hamburg has implemented Sennheiser’s MobileConnect that captures the sound onstage and streams it directly to your smartphone.


*This article was originally published in Systems Integration Asia Jun-Jul 2016.