World Wide Web Wireless

In 1900, few Americans drove an automobile. No one imagined the extent to which the car would change work, play, and travel.

Five years ago, almost no one surfed the World Wide Web. We know very little about the way the Internet will change work, play, and travel in the next century.

I recently spent two days at the World Internet Conference in New York. Rubbing elbows with the industry's leading software marketers focuses the imagination. A window opened on the many changes already in place. A strong wind blew through that window heralding changes soon to come. Let me zero in on just one breeze ablowing.

Software developers are about to do to radio stations what carmakers did to blacksmiths.

Matt Hulett listens to music on his cell phone in Seattle. His cell phone has Internet browser capability. He can listen to any Web site with audio, including, but definitely not only, radio stations online. He works for RealNetworks.

RealNetworks ships 125,000 copies of its video and audio software, free, every day. (The marketing guys call it UNRL - ubiquity now, revenue later.) America Online just agreed to ship RealPlayer (video and audio software combined) when anyone signs on to its Internet service. There are 31 million registered copies of RealPlayer.

Once cellular phone rates come down, Mr. Hulett predicts digital phones linked to the Internet with his company's software and a simple Walkman-like headphone attachment (like the one he uses, plugged into his car's radio speakers) means a person can listen to any favorite Web site.

It doesn't cost much to set up a Web site that produces quality audio. It certainly beats paying for your own radio station with an FCC license to broadcast. Even if a station is on the Net, geographic monopoly granted by FCC licensing of radio signals goes poof as listeners go World Wide Web wireless.

* Comments or questions? Write to Ideas Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail: Ideas@csps.com

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