Tuning Fork

Do We Need Another Wireless Standard?



By Brian L. Clark

One of the most interesting things about covering tech is you're constantly bombarded with propaganda touting the "next great" technological breakthrough. For example, these days I'm thinking the next great thing is WiMAX, or 802.16. WiMAX is, essentially, WiFi on steroids. The idea behind it is to extend the range of broadband wireless connectivity not by hundreds of feet, but by miles—2 to 7 miles, depending on terrain, as opposed to WiFi's theoretical 300 feet. WiMAX products will likely hit the market later this year, with Intel building connectivity into mobile chipsets in 2007.

Now you might wonder what that has to do with a column about all things television. Well, Intel recently announced it was partnering with a Swedish company called NDS to develop a trial system that provides TV and video systems via WiMAX. According to NDS, the technology would allow WiMAX service providers to bundle TV and video-on-demand with broadband offerings and would use NDS's secure VideoGuard technology to provide paid access.

This isn't the first time Intel has dabbled in wireless entertainment, by the way. At last year's Sundance Festival, Intel partnered with Alvarion and Mountain Wireless to stream a feature-length movie to a theater nearly two miles away. According to attendees, the "resulting image quality was indistinguishable from customary commercial theater showings." Also important, Intel claims that this was no special setup but rather, a "straightforward installation of market-available hardware." In other words, the WiMAX products they used to conduct this experiment are already available.

WiMAX is exciting because it allows providers another avenue to distribute content to subscribers. This week, there were rumblings in the analyst community that Microsoft should look into acquiring Time Warner. Whether that happens or not is irrelevant. Just imagine Microsoft (or Earthlink or AOL) as your wireless Internet service provider offering subscribers the option to stream all of Time Warner's content, including CNN, HBO, or Cinemax via a WiMAX wireless connection. And then think about being able to watch that content on your TV, which happens to be a connected to your home network.

Now carry it a step further. Imagine that with 802.16e, or Mobile WiMAX, you'll be able to receive Sirius or XM satellite television. And this is where my previous idea for a personal TV network comes in to play. If I'm driving down the road on a Sunday afternoon and my beloved Eagles are available via that network, I'll be able to tune to the game on the TV in the back of my SUV. Of course, I'd listen to it in the front seat, but my fanatical oldest son (a chip off the old block) would be able to give me his own play-by-play description of what's happening on the field. Not a sports fan? Then think about live broadband traffic updates where you'd request info for the Garden State Parkway and your network tells you to get off at exit 157 because of the logjam at exit 159.

No one's suggesting any of this is going to happen in the next year, but again, that's the fun of writing a technology blog. Speculation is free and, generally speaking, doesn't scare the crap out of shareholders.

Brian L. Clark is a writer and consultant on all things digital, runs the The Tech Enthusiast's Network, and writes for Inc., Men's Health, and Laptop. Read more Tuning Fork here.