DETROIT – Purveyors of high-definition radio want consumers to know their product transforms regular FM stereo into CD-quality sound, makes AM radio sound like FM and provides additional channels on the same frequency.

But to electronics engineers at the Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference here, they are adding a more technical message: HD radio has enough bandwidth to serve as a multimedia platform to support a variety of functions beyond radio reception.

Jeff McGannon, vice president-OEM business development at iBiquity Digital, the company that developed and licenses HD radio technology, calls HD radio a “low-cost data pipe” that can transmit information almost as fast as satellite radio.

McGannon says HD radio has data throughput in the Detroit area of 3.0 megabits per second compared with national throughput rates of 3.28 mb/s and 4.4 mb/s for XM and Sirius satellite radio, respectively.

This gives HD radio the capability to do “multicasting” (offering several different music formats on different channels on the same frequency, as well as another channel featuring traffic and weather updates); provide surround sound; deliver graphics and images on the radio receiver; transmit non-audio digital information such as text message updates on traffic and weather; “time shift content” (essentially TiVo radio content); and supply other features.

McGannon says 1,010 stations in the U.S. currently are broadcasting high-definition signals in 94 of the top 100 radio markets reaching an estimated 240 million listeners. Of the 1,010 HD stations, 370 also are doing multicasting.

BMW AG was the first auto maker to offer HD Radio as a factory option. McGannon says nine vehicle brands so far have committed to offering the technology on 49 models in the next few years.

Five brands will offer HD Radio as an option next year and three more brands will make it available in 2008, followed by one more in 2009.

Radio stations in Brazil, Thailand and Canada also are launching the technology, and it now is being tested in Europe as well.

dwinter@wardsauto.com