What is mp3?

mp3 is more than a technology; mp3 is a cultural phenomenon and an example for successful research, development and marketing in Germany.

Marketing the new technology was just as important as its development in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Developers at Fraunhofer searching for mp3 technology applications 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 established industry’s resistance 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 file, meaning music can be quickly transferred over the Internet and stored on mp3 players. Depending on its storage capacity, a modern mp3 player can store between 2,000 to 200,000 minutes of music, which equates to more than 130 days of uninterrupted music playback. As a result, music fans’ entire collections fit onto a device no bigger than a matchbox.

The idea for audio encoding and initial basic research in the field arose at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. Starting in 1987, a large team drawn from the university and 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, along with many other people and research institutions that also contributed to the development and marketing of mp3.