[opendtv] Analysis: WiMax Could Be "The New Radio"

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 20 May 2005 08:58:57 -0400


Will WiMax Be "The New Radio?"

By Rick Dearborn (Radio Ink, 5/9/05)

The arrival of a new technology could have a broad impact on the 
radio industry. There is every indication that it will influence the 
way radio delivers programming and the way it tracks audiences. 
Surprisingly, there has been little if any discussion about it within 
the industry, as it is a broadcast technology that broadcasters did 
not develop.

Enter WiMax
The new technology is being called WiMax. No doubt many readers are 
already aware of Wi-Fi, a popular form of wireless technology 
intended to free computer users from their electronic tethers by 
creating wire-free local area networks or "hotspots" with a workable 
range of 300 feet. As long as you stay put, the system works great. 
But, when you move between hotspots, you must reconnect, often to 
another service provider. That limits Wi-Fi's ability to be a truly 
mobile technology.

Great as it is, Wi-Fi is only a taste of what's on the way. Last 
year, a consortium of more than 200 member corporations - rather like 
a who's who of the communications industry (AT&T, Cisco Systems, 
Intel, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia, Time-Warner etc.) - approved the new 
WiMax wireless standard. Equipment is scheduled for standards 
certification this summer.

WiMax has been designed to have a range of 30 miles from a single, 
well-located transmitter; within that range, data transfer rates are 
anticipated to be 70 Mbps. To put that in perspective, most radio 
stations use ISDN connections to retrieve high-quality audio from 
remote broadcasts. A single WiMax connection has the equivalent 
capacity of more than 500 ISDN lines. As a further comparison, many 
radio stations have T-1 connections to the Internet for their 
computer networks. A single WiMax connection would offer the 
equivalent of 60 T-1 lines, or seven DVD-quality video signals to 
each individual wireless user.

At least initially, WiMax is likely to have many of the same 
connecting challenges as Wi-Fi. In other words, you need to stay 
within the hotspot to be connected. But, clearly, a metropolitan-area 
hotspot has a lot more going for it than one that covers only a 
portion of an office building.

Already on the fast-track is an enhanced version of WiMax, scheduled 
for approval this summer. With field trials projected for 2006, 
enhanced WiMax will be for use in moving vehicles. Not only is it 
proposed to work at highway speeds, but it also is being designed to 
re-connect easily as you move from hotspot to hotspot, in a manner 
similar to cellular telephones.

With the network of established cell towers already in place, some 
analysts are predicting that, as early as 2008, you might be able to 
get a high-speed mobile wireless Internet connection nearly anywhere 
in the United States. Imagine having a browser in the dashboard of 
your car, with preset buttons for "favorites" that could include 
Internet radio stations around the world, weather maps, music, 
movies, television, your security cameras at home, and even a picture 

Impact On Radio
Clearly, a new medium that can deliver audio and video into moving 
vehicles coast-to-coast is a broadcast medium. Industry people 
working with AM, FM, HD or satellite should sit up and take notice - 
and with this new standard being tested next year, radio should do it 
quickly. (For information on WiMax, visit the WiMax Forum website at 

Consider the mass media of today: radio, television, film, 
recordings, newspapers, magazines, books, etc. Each has developed in 
sync with advances in the varying delivery technologies. But today, a 
website can deliver audio, video and text on the same page at the 
same time - truly multi-media. As bandwidth capabilities have 
increased, the technical quality of web-based delivery has followed 
suit. Add wireless delivery, and you have a broadcast medium that is 
capable of a seamless integration of print, audio and video material.

WiMax actually is only a small part of what is coming, as several 
other technologies are being rolled out. UWB (Ultra Wide Band) 
promises ultra-high-speed connections between devices at short range. 
Already demonstrated is home-entertainment equipment that will allow 
the user to distribute high-quality media signals between rooms 
without wires. A next step may be transformation of how radio routes 
audio signals around a facility and produces content, potentially 
without wires. However, unlike WiMax, UWB proponents are currently 
locked in a standards battle that is restraining implementation.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is beginning to 
replace bar codes for product identification. Already in use at 
Wal-Mart, it allows wireless tracking and cataloging of physical 
objects. Soon, wireless RFID may allow you, while shopping in the 
grocery store, to access your refrigerator at home to see what tagged 
items you have on hand. At check-out, all you will need to do is push 
your loaded shopping cart of tagged items through the checkout lane, 
without removing them from the cart.

RFID technology has the potential of revolutionizing audience 
ratings. Imagine having RFID tags in audience radios, enabling 
stations to know not only what audiences are listening to, but 
exactly when and where, with instant and continuous real-time 

It is hard to think of an area of daily life that wireless technology 
won't impact. Imagine driving back from a ski vacation and being able 
to turn up the heat at home. A sales rep may be able to directly 
schedule spots with a handheld device during a client meeting in a 

Threat Or Opportunity?
All technical innovations can be considered a threat or an 
opportunity. With the advent of new wireless technologies and others 
certain to follow, the radio industry, while appearing mature, may 
actually be in its infancy. One way or another, all appearances are 
that radio could be entering the dawn of a new era.

As listeners become increasingly connected to devices that transform 
their lives, they will no longer have to decide which one to turn on 
to receive programming. Whatever device they use - PDA, cell phone or 
something we can't yet envision - will already be media capable. The 
increasing challenge will be to snag audience attention in an 
environment that is far more distracting than anything we can 

It is logical to believe that there will be a continuing thirst for 
valuable information and entertainment. Following the pattern being 
set by the cable industry, successful media probably will become more 
specialized than ever. For example, imagine a person who likes golf. 
Would that person listen to radio programming customized for golfers: 
music, commercials for golfing products, golf tips, and stories from 
other golfers about their experiences? It seems likely. How about 
backpacking, antique cars, home projects, or any other activity? It 
is hard to imagine hobbyists who would not want to tune into 
customized radio programming directed at them.

Certainly, WiMax, and other related technologies will have growing 
pains. Delays from unforeseen technical problems and the usual 
standards issues are anticipated. However, as we observe what has 
been learned from technologies such as Wi-Fi and cellular, as well as 
the level of industry-wide support for WiMax as a universal standard, 
there is every indication that this technology will succeed.

For what may be the first time, a new form of broadcasting is coming, 
one that broadcasters have not had a stake in developing. It has come 
from outside the radio industry, and it appears to be right at the 

Radio is in the audio-content business, and content will remain king. 
To address this challenge and seize an opportunity before it 
blindsides the industry, however, radio must remain alert, work 
together and think outside the box. If broadcasters can succeed at 
that, this may indeed be the sunrise of a new radio era.

Rick Dearborn is a media technology consultant and has taught 
college-level mass communication courses. Visit www.rickdearborn.com.
You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways:

- Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at 

- By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word 
unsubscribe in the subject line.

Other related posts: