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Dual-Mode Sat. Tuners Not Ready For Prime Time

New York — An interoperable satellite radio shouldn’t be expected anytime soon.

Interoperable Technologies, a joint venture founded by Sirius and XM in November 2003, said it has “successfully completed the design” of a satellite radio tuner with single antenna to receive broadcasts from both satellite radio companies, according to the one-page company Web site. Sirius senior VP Bob Law, however, said his company “has no plans to commercialize that product this year.” A recent 10k form from XM said the design has not even been completed, and an executive familiar with XM’s plans said, “I personally don’t see it happening this year.”

When the FCC handed out licenses to XM and Sirius, it mandated the companies develop an interoperable radio that would boost competition by enabling consumers to receive broadcasts from their choice of providers without buying a new tuner. The two companies have spent $2.5 million to date on the project, a satellite radio official said.

One executive said that although the tuner is in development, “the primary challenges are determining the size of the market for it and the cost.” Compared to current tuners, a truly interoperable tuner with one antenna that picks up signals from both companies’ satellites is “incredibly expensive” compared to today’s low-cost plug-and-play tuners. XM’s satellites are stationary, while Sirius’s satellites aren’t, he said, pointing to the technical challenges.

“Today, you can buy two inexpensive plug-and-play tuners with separate antennas and trade them out of a car’s cigarette lighters,” the official noted.