FCC chief Ajit Pai asked Apple to activate non-existent iPhone FM chips

29 Sep 2017

FM radio chips have not been included in iPhones for several iterations. Image: Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

Ajit Pai has been pushing the issue of FM radio chips as a public safety measure for some time.

Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, made a statement yesterday citing “devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria” as a reason for Apple to activate FM radio chips in its iPhones.

FM radio chips for public safety

Pai said in the statement: “In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States. And I’ve specifically pointed out the public safety benefits of doing so.”

He continued, singling Apple out as he praised other corporations: “When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM radio chips can allow Americans to get vital access to lifesaving information.

“I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones. Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so.”

The disappearing chip

There is, however, a slight issue with Pai’s request, given that Apple hasn’t included FM radio chips in iPhones since the debut of the 6s device, several iterations ago.

TechCrunch reported Apple’s response to Pai’s statement: “Apple cares deeply about the safety of our users, especially during times of crisis, and that’s why we have engineered modern safety solutions into our products.

Apple also made sure to mention the myriad of safety features already present on the iPhone. “Users can dial emergency services and access medical ID card information directly from the lock screen, and we enable government emergency notifications, ranging from weather advisories to AMBER alerts.”

The activation of these FM radio chips in newer iPhones would certainly be a big ask, considering they don’t exist. “iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”

Manufacturers heeding FCC recommendations

Other manufacturers such as Samsung and Motorola have, in recent years, sold more handsets with FM chips included, as Pai has been pushing this as an issue for years now.

Critics say that the FCC could be doing more to reinforce its own response and readiness protocol in the face of an ever-increasing number of natural disasters.

There is indeed a case for the use of FM to communicate after a hurricane or similar natural disaster in the event of mobile phone tower networks being destroyed, as seen in Puerto Rico recently. 90pc of towers in Puerto Rico are still out of service following Hurricane Maria.

FM chips have not been included in iPhones for several iterations. Image: Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects