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Radio Calling

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 3/22/02 issue of R&R There's a quaint difference between the huge CeBIT conference in Germany and the glitz of Las Vegas that is home to COMDEX: instead of staying in huge hotels, Hanover's residents open up their private homes en masse to the visitors to their town to stay for the week or so of the show.

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Big announcements at CeBIT could change the way we receive audio yet again, shifting the central focus of our personal electronics back to our cell phones. Two technologies that are just around the corner here include SMS (short messaging services) and 3G (third generation) data services. SMS is wildly popular in the UK and in Japan, where younger demographics have begun pounding away on their cellphone keypads quick notes to each other like U R 2 QL, and are doing so some 2 billion times a day. Yes, per day.

The 3G announcements and new cellphones from manufacturers like Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola could mean yet another way that you can deliver your programming and music to your audience. Today, you're lucky if you can get your cellphone to access the data services of the Internet at speeds that rank at around 2/3 the speed of an older 28.8 modem. That may be fine for text information, but for little else: the graphics, animation and sound that we take for granted on our desktop and laptops are excruciatingly slow to load. With 3G, you'll get data at speeds approaching broadband speeds, allowing for audio to become a realistic entertainment and information choice.

Here's a bit of a speed bump: Verizon let loose with their pricing plans, and they will charge by the megabyte for data delivered over 3G services, when they gain wide deployment. It's not a great deal, especially if you're looking to deliver streaming or downloaded audio of any quality: $35 for 10 megabytes a month, $55 for 20 megabytes. Consider that 10 minutes of highly compressed audio (read that: lo fidelity) comes in at about 5 megabytes, you're not going to do too much digital listening at those rates. For a perspective, typical MP3 files that are encoded in joint stereo at 128 bits come in at 1 megabyte per minute, and full quality wave files are around 10 megs per minute.

You may not be listening in full fidelity, but you can certainly get a traffic or weather or news report, or song of the day pushed to your cell phone every morning. As the networks get faster and cheaper, we may find that the headsets being mandated for use in automobiles may start to look less like a receptionist's and more like a DJ's.

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