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XM Phases Out Wireless FM In Car Kits

XM Satellite Radio is transitioning to wired FM modulation from wireless to let motorists play back XM programming through their existing car stereo systems without having to pay for professional installers.

The shift enables XM to resume production of plug-and-play tuners that previously exceeded FCC regulations limiting the output of wireless FM transmitters. At least four such XM tuners, all intended for do-it-yourself installation in vehicles, will be available in time for the Christmas selling season. They are the Audiovox Xpress, Delphi RoadyXT, XM Sportscaster, and SkyFi3. The Xpress is in stores, and the RoadyXT and Sportscaster are due in stores in about three or four weeks. SkyFi3 will ship sometime before Christmas, likely around November. Also later this year, XM will ship its live-XM/MP3 headphone stereos with the new wired-FM car kit, called XM SuerConnect.

The kit will be included with all new plug-and-play tuners and XM headphone portables going forward, the company added.

Wired FM modulation is XM’s response to the FCC crackdown on wireless FM transmitters that exceed power-output caps. The transmitters, built into plug-and-play satellite-radio tuners and MP3-player accessories, are designed to wirelessly inject satellite-radio programming or MP3-player music into a car audio system through FM-station frequencies not in use in a local market. If the transmitter’s output exceeds FCC limits, however, the products can interfere with FM radio reception in nearby cars and homes.

To meet the power-output caps, XM’s other choice would have been to power down the outputs of the tuners’ FM transmitters, but doing so “would definitely mean more interference” from FM radio stations whose signals would break through the transmitters’ weakened signals, said product marketing VP Rocco Tricarico. Lower power wireless would force drivers to search for usable FM frequencies while driving through some areas, company literature added.

Tricarico called the new solution “the best self-install solution to get XM through your FM radio” because it “provides a direct pathway to the antenna” and because “the signal is concentrated” rather than emitted wirelessly “in all directions.”

The new XM SureConnect car kits send FM signals over a thin wire that clips onto the mast of a car’s exterior whip antenna or onto a car’s in-glass antenna. The wired solution won’t intimidate do-it-yourselfers because it’s no harder to install than the adhesive-mount XM antennas in the company’s existing DIY car kits, Tricarico claimed.

The kit also includes a cassette adapter, which is intended for the 2 percent of vehicles sold in the past five years with retractable antennas and for the less-than-1 percent of vehicles sold during that time with non-whip roof antennas, Tricarico pointed out. For vehicles with these types of antennas, but without cassette decks, consumers could opt for a separate $19.95-suggested behind-the-dash wired-FM modulator. The modulator plugs into the factory antenna cable between the car radio and the car’s AM/FM antenna.

With the launch of the SureConnect program, XM is modifying its plug-and-play tuners to remove their internal FM transmitters. SureConnect embeds the FM transmitter into a tiny “coupling module” that can be tucked under the dash. One wire running from the module connects to the XM antenna. A second wire runs to a SureConnect clip, which clips onto an exterior AM/FM whip antenna and is covered by a small rubber boot. For cars with embedded-glass antennas, the clip can be fastened onto the factory-installed antenna element on the window inside the car.

The XPress and RoadyXT with bundled kits are a suggested $79.99, and the Sportscaster is a suggested $59.99.

The new SkyFi3, which doubles as a plug-and-play tuner and live-XM/MP3 headphone stereo, features a searchable 10-hour memory buffer. It is also Delphi’s first satellite radio unit to include a microSD slot. Suggested retail price is $229 for the receiver, and an additional $49 for optional headphones with built-in antenna.

In September, XM announced that suppliers would resume production of the Xpress, RoadyXT, and Sportscaster but declined to reveal how the devices would meet FCC requirements.