Honolulu's Brock Whaley: "I have heard the future in my car"
Honolulu radio programmer Brock Whaley (via RAIN reader and Madison AAA programmer Tom Teuber) reports:
I have heard the future in my car.
I have had a very exciting weekend so far. My curiosity got the best of me. The result was beyond my wildest dreams. I have experienced the future of radio and even of DXing. It’s like I’m living with the Jetsons.
I’m sure you heard about the huge Clearwire WiMax deal that went down this week. Let me review, and get the business part out of the way. Clearwire is to be merged with Sprint Nextel’s wireless broadband unit Xohm, combining Sprint’s 4G WiMax network (Xohm) with Clearwire’s existing Pre-WiMax broadband network. Sprint will own 51% of the firm, with ex-Clearwire shareholders owning 27% — a consortium of Comcast, Time Warner, Intel, Google, and Bright House will invest $3.2 billion and own the balance. The new firm will retain the “Clearwire” brand and will sell 4G WiMax mobile broadband to Sprint as an MVNO, while Clearwire & the cable companies will buy 3G mobile broadband from Sprint as MVNOs.
Big players. With big expectations. With big plans. Leading to a big payoff.
We have Clearwire here in Hawaii, so I thought, What the hell? Will it work in my car? Can I have the world’s radio stations at my fingertips while I drive around Kailua and Honolulu? Can I listen to London, Atlanta, and Chicago while I drive to Safeway and back? Can I still DX? [Kurt’s note: “DX-ing” is the hobby of listening to radio stations that are long distances away.] Can I listen with in stereo with no fading, static, and drop out? Can I really access the web for miles while in motion?
You bet your ass I can!
I have heard the future in my car. A future that is damn close. A future that offers thousands of more choices then over the air radio, satellite radio, and certainly HD radio. A future that the vast majority of broadcasters have yet to acknowledge, let alone plan for.
Clearwire is operating a pre-WiMax broadband transmission chain here in Hawaii and in a few select markets around the country. A full map is on their web site. It is the same as a regular Wi-Fi, but is transmitted at high power from numerous transmitters and towers just like cell sites. This is the beginning of what will be called WiMax.
Basically, it is a wireless broadband distribution service that covers miles instead of feet. It is of course two-way. It is just like a regular internet connection. Local Clearwire has a download speed of 2.0 mbps. With WiMax speeds will increase.
Now, please keep in mind that what I did will soon be in your dashboard. Just like a radio always has been. What I did is bulky and experimental, but it worked. Everything I had on my dashboard, and in my passengers seat can be placed into a small external disc antenna (just like GPS and XM antennas), and in a dashboard unit that would contain a web browser, media player, and amplifier. Just add speakers.
I went to Clearwire, signed up for service, and picked up a Motorola broadband WiMax modem and antenna. The present pre WiMax service operates in the 2.8 GHz range. Clearwire offers a fixed receiver for home or office use. It also offers a plug in receiver for laptop use. The fixed receiver uses a much larger antenna, and since I was going to be mobile for my little experiment, I wanted as much gain and capture area as possible.
Today, I gave it a test drive in the truest sense of the word. The Clearwire antenna and modem I chose is about eight inches tall and less than an inch thick. It is very light. I just stood it upright on the passenger’s side dashboard and held it in place with a book. Velcro will hold it from now on. Real consumer units will be use a small outside antenna as I have described.
I plugged the Clearwire unit and the HP into the power inverter. The radio in my Ford does not have an audio input jack, so I use a cassette adapter to get the audio from the laptop in my cars audio system. Real consumer units will be one piece mounted in the dash.
I didn’t want to be too distracted while driving, so I selected up a few internet bookmarks and respective audio players to use during the test. Two mainland stations, BBC Radio, and a special DX preset, but more on that later.
Clearwire claims great coverage of Kailua and metro Honolulu. At the present time, there is no coverage on the Pali Highway that connects both towns.
I started the car, and turned everything on, and by God it works! Clumsy and experimental, but it works. The Clearwire signal indicator showed an excellent signal, even through the windshield. I brought up the stream of WDRV in Chicago, and there it was. Loud and clear in stereo. I drove into Kailua town. No drop out! Even as the direction of car changed. Signal strength varied in some directions as I drove, but I never lost the stream.
I lost the signal driving to Honolulu, but the signal lasted farther than the Clearwire coverage map indicated. The same went as I approached Honolulu. I pulled off the road at a scenic lookout and reestablished an internet connection on the laptop. This time to all-news KNX in Los Angeles. I took King Street from the Pali all the way to Kaimuki, and I only lost the signal and had to reconnect once. I pulled over and tried the BBC with the even better results. No dropout all the way to Kahala Mall. I’m talking miles here, on city streets, and I’m listening to freaking London, in stereo, with no noise, no static, no dropouts, in my cheap Ford in Hawaii!
I cannot underestimate how excited I was and still am. This is incredible. It does work, and it will soon be the norm.
Now, on to DX. There used to a website called DX tuners. It has been replaced by a group called Global Tuners. These are a collection of communication receivers located all over the world that can be tuned and listened to over the web. There are quite a few all over the U. S. (including Marietta, GA. Yes, you can hear WYZE) and the world.
I waited until I got back to Kailua for this thrill. I parked at Kailua Beach Park, and connected to a Global Tuner in England. Traffic was heavy, and you have to share the receivers with others on the web, but I got some time.
I cannot describe what it is like to sit in my car, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a late sunny afternoon, and DX the longwave and broadcast band from England where it is already the middle of the night.
Is it real DXing or is it cheating? I really don’t care. The fact that soon I will be able to tune and DX on a radio from anywhere in the world, from my own dashboard, from anywhere in the world is a whole new ballgame. The signal still has to reach the radio and the go on the web. The antenna on the global tuner I was using is piss-poor on longwave. So there was a low signal level and 50 Hz line noise competing with France-Inter, but I could tune up and down the dial. The signal from the BBC on longwave was local like. Just as you would expect if you were physically right at the radio.
I guess the whole point of this rambling is that I have heard the future of radio. I really find it difficult to tell you the emotion that went along with this first experimental test. I certainly understand from a technical standpoint how it all works. In this age of the web, and broadband gigahertz transmission it is quite understandable. But to actually hear it. To have access to any audio on the web, as well as DX capable radios around the world in my moving car while I drive is just too much.
I know my correspondence has not been the greatest during my return stay in Honolulu. And I certainly have had my ups and downs. I never expected to write such a long email. I am just amazed and thrilled at what is around the corner with WiMax. I’ll be doing more driving and testing in the days and weeks to come. It is a very basic set-up, but it works.
Look out my friends — it is beyond what we ever imagined.
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