What is mp3?

Just as important as the development work undertaken in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was the marketing of the new technology. Developers at Fraunhofer were searching for applications for mp3 technology and soon came up with the vision of portable music players that would allow music fans to store their entire music collections. Though their ideas were initially ridiculed, the Fraunhofer team overcame the resistance of established industry and turned mp3 into a global success.

mp3 encodes and stores music. An mp3 file takes up just 10 percent of the storage space of the original. This means music can be quickly transferred over the internet and stored on mp3 players. Depending on its storage capacity, a modern mp3 player stores between 2000 and 200,000 minutes of music, which equates to more than 130 days of uninterrupted music playback. As a result, music fans’ entire collections fit into a device no bigger than a matchbox.

The idea for audio encoding and initial basic research in the field arose at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. From 1987 onwards, a large team drawn from the university and from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen worked on developing the mp3 standard. The list of people instrumental in this successful collaboration includes Karlheinz Brandenburg, Ernst Eberlein, Heinz Gerhäuser, Bernhard Grill, Jürgen Herre and Harald Popp, and many other people and research institutions also contributed to the development and marketing of mp3.