Once upon a time Wi-FI could barely reach from one end of your house to the other.
Pundits scoffed at the idea that the Internet could ever live in cars since traveling down the road meant an endless succession of somebody else’s (closed) Wi-Fi networks.
Then folks realized that you could bring the Internet into the car with you, thanks to the 3G (or better) device in your pocket that you also occasionally used for making calls.
Yeah, they said, but that’s clunky and awkward and only on its way to becoming universal. True enough.
And then, one day, a new Wi-Fi standard was approved, thanks to the spectrum opened by the digital transformation of TV. And that new Wi-Fi could do a little better than reach from one end of your house to the other: 62 miles in all directions better, in fact.
Yes, the just-released new Wi-Fi standard has a total range of 12,000 square miles – from a single base station.
Do you think this will affect radio, Mr. Broadcaster? What about you, Mr. NAB?
Now that the official standard has been approved, companies can go start building things that incorporate 802.22 technology, so it’s really just a matter of time before none of us are without Wi-Fi access ever again. Phew.
Conceivably, this could mean that all wireless devices are built for Wi-Fi, given a range and reliability that looks suspiciously like what we used to call “broadcast radio.” Does that mean goodbye cellular? Maybe. Who needs it when your Wi-Fi has the same coverage as the TV station that used to occupy that same frequency?
But what it certainly will mean is that the exclusivity rendered by broadcast signals will cease to exist. And broadcasters will win or lose not on the basis of owning all the audio real estate but by providing the best content in the best forms that the most consumers want to seek out and consume.
As is usual in technology prognostication, this may not play out quite the way it seems (remember Wi-Max?). But one thing is clear: Consumer demand is pushing us towards better, faster, more universal, easier, more accessible wireless access. And that will have consequences for radio.
None of this will happen right away, obviously. It will take years. But what will it mean when every alternative to radio has the same potential ubiquity as radio enjoys?
It will mean that radio has to be really, really good.
And really, really more than “radio.”