Metcalfe's column: From the Ether

Recently, from Vortex 2000 (www.vortex.net), I reported that The Next Big Thing in network convergence is The Broadcast Internet. This week: Kerbango, a startup converging the Internet with broadcast radio.

Most scholars say Guglielmo Marconi invented radio, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1909.

Other fierce contenders include Gilbert (who coined "electricity" in 1600), Morse, Maxwell, Loomis, Hughes, Peerce, Heaviside, Branly, Poppov, Lodge, Stubblefield, Edison, and of course Heinrich Hertz (for whom cycles per second are named).

Many disagree about whether our Supreme Court ruled that Nikola Tesla was actually the inventor of radio. The only living inventor claimant is Al Gore.

As you can read at www.kerbango.com, by 1930 NBC and CBS had been founded, and there were AM radios in 30 million homes. In 1934, we got the Federal Communications Commission, and in 1939, the first four FM stations.

Transistor radios appeared in 1954, and in 1998, Kerbango!

Kerbango, an Apple spin-off in Cupertino, California, now offers its Kerbango Tuning Service and this summer its Kerbango Internet Radio.

Kerbango claims to offer the first stand-alone Internet radio. Look, Ma, no PC.

MBAs exploring "the Internet radio space" will ponder the differences among radio, audio, telephone, voice, and music.

Pundits such as myself will make much of the differences among LP, AM, FM, IM, CD, and MP3.

If you don't recognise it, IM is short for Internet Modulation, as in Kerbango's AM/FM/IM radio.

We MBAs and pundits will ask whether radios are mostly mobile or fixed, wireless or wired. Will radio be mostly streamed or downloaded? Real-time or archived? Broadcast or interactive?

But forget all of that and just visit www.kerbango.com. Kerbango offers over 5,000 radio stations you can listen to right now with your sound-enabled PC.

And this summer, we'll be able to buy the Kerbango Internet Radio.

It's an 8-by-10.5-by-7.5-inch AM/FM clock radio with stereo and headphone outputs. It sports a 320-by-240 LCD display and weighs 4 pounds.

Inside is an 80MHz PowerPC microprocessor with 8MB of DRAM and 8MB of flash memory.

According to Kerbango, theirs is a 600-million-transistor radio.

The Kerbango radio embeds Linux, which may lead some of you to think it should be free. But it will cost about $300.Out back are two USB ports: a 56Kbps modem and 10/100 Ethernet.

In addition to over the air, this post-PC appliance might get audio through USB ports from the disk of a PC on your home LAN, from a hard disk, or from an MP3 player.

More likely, in the short term, it will get streaming audio through its modem dialed in to an ISP. Longer term, it will stay tuned via Ethernet through an always-on high-speed connection to the Internet, such as my new 300Kbps DSL line.

Why Kerbango radio? Four reasons. First choice: 5,000 stations and counting.

Second: Listening to programs on demand -- to Rush Limbaugh after dinner.

Third: Interactivity -- learn who is singing your song, order that product now being advertised.

And fourth: Something unanticipated.

For now, the Kerbango radio does nothing with its AM/FM receiver except pass analog audio through to its speakers.

How long before digital Internet content is broadcast over AM/FM bands? Not soon, says Kerbango.

They'll sooner be using the Internet to retrieve information about analog AM/FM broadcasts from Web servers at radio stations.

For now, radio, but how long before television? Not soon, says Kerbango, because the Internet can't carry consumer-quality broadcast video.

Which is what I've been saying.

To deliver increasing volumes of broadcast content, the Internet soon needs to converge with the broadcast networks now delivering radio and television.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe welcomes all your comments at metcalfe@infoworld.com. His new book, Internet Collapses and Other InfoWorld Punditry, is available from booksellers everywhere.

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