MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
At the Consumer Electronic Show, or CES, the word is wireless. From stereos to cars to computers, the hot products are mobile and connected.
NPR's Laura Sydell joins us now to tell us about a new kind of wireless that's getting a lot of buzz at the convention.
LAURA SYDELL: Hello, Michele.
NORRIS: So what is this new technology?
SYDELL: Okay. It's called WiMax, and it can broadcast broadband over a large area. So that means you can pick it up while you're moving, so say, you're walking down the street or you're driving. And yesterday, I went on a short ride in a specially wired WiMax GM Suburban. And I was with my host from Intel, Cosmen Johnson(ph).
So, essentially, what, what I'm looking at here in the front is just a small screen. And on that small screen, there are a variety of things I can do. I can make phone calls. I can map where I am. Right now, I'm seeing a map right there on the system, and I guess that can just tell me where I am. I guess, the question is what's different from this from, say, just a regular GPS system?
COSMEN JOHNSON: Well, the regular GPS system is just GPS system location. But with this, you can have up-to-date traffic reports, road construction. And if you're running low on gas, the GPS will actually route you to the closest gas station with the cheapest prices.
SYDELL: So that map system is just one of the many services that the WiMax system is going to bring to the car. And here's another one.
JOHNSON: Yahoo! Mini Jukebox, which is a, an online, on demand music. So, you could search any artist or song that you like and stream it live over your WiMax connection, so like those stored locally on your system. But now, you have access to unlimited amounts of music without having to go out and buy CDs and store them on your system and go through all the hassle.
SYDELL: And that's because it's coming directly from the Internet?
JOHNSON: Directly from the Internet over WiMax. It's a great example of broadband on the go. So if you have a specific artist, I could search for it and actually play it.
SYDELL: How about Tori Amos?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NORRIS: Laura, that's great. So if it's a Stevie Wonder day, you just plug that in and then you listen to Stevie all day long, huh?
SYDELL: Exactly. You can just say, I want to hear Stevie Wonder, put it in, and as much Stevie Wonder as you want to listen to will be streaming right down from the Internet.
NORRIS: That sounds like fun. So how soon will WiMax technology actually be available?
SYDELL: Well, the big companies are, that are getting behind WiMax are Intel, which makes the chips so that the devices can actually get the WiMax signal, and then Sprint and Clearwire, which were going to be the WiMax service providers. And I should say that Sprint and Intel have been talking about WiMax here at CES for the last three years. So, there is some history, and it hasn't come out yet. But I want to say that it looks like they really are getting closer. I've talked to a number of analysts who say in the next few years, we should see it. And Sprint has said that you there in D.C. will be getting some WiMax this year, and they're also going to try it in Chicago. And they've started rolling out in parts of Oregon. So, I think that slowly but surely, in the next few years, you're really going to see this, probably a few years before you see a whole state blanketed with WiMax.
NORRIS: Now, all of this stuff sounds great, but it also sounds like it depends on getting a wireless signal. How good is the signal in the car that you were in?
SYDELL: Well, yeah, the signal was darn pretty good. And no matter how fast we drove, it was consistent. And what's really promising about WiMax is it's going to be possible to quickly download anything in the car while you're walking around. So, if your kids are in the backseat and they want to watch something, they can get it right away. They can just download a video. They can also play online games without that lag time that in previous generations of wireless technology, you know, you could suddenly get your avatar killed because of the lag time. Internet radio will stream pretty seamlessly without any dropout.
NORRIS: Now, aside from all the stuff in that car that you rode in, what else are companies planning to do with wireless?
SYDELL: Well, the idea would be to have it have it on other mobile devices. So for example, Intel is hoping that people will buy small laptops that they can use on the go. This could also be a real plus for Internet telephone services. So in the car, we had Skype, which is an Internet telephone service, and it worked really well. You could just dial it up. They also hope that, eventually, this will all be voiced command. You'll just be able to say, "Call Michele," for example.
NORRIS: Well, we could go on and on, but I guess I have to say goodbye. Thanks so much, Laura.
SYDELL: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: That was NPR's digital culture correspondent, Laura Sydell. She was speaking to us from the Consumer Electronic Show, or CES, in Las Vegas.
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