Internet for Your Car, Your iPod -- in the Middle of Nowhere

If you've ever wanted to shop online and stream music from your car or be connected to the Internet on a cross-country road trip, companies like Intel, Sprint and Motorola believe your wildest Web fantasies may be about to come true.

All three companies have contributed to the development of WiMax, a technology that delivers strong wireless signals across miles instead of feet, probably even faster than the Internet connection you're using to read this article right now.

"WiMax is this new technology that allows for consumers to be connected to the Internet, much like the way they're connected today in their homes over a broadband DSL or a cable connection, and have high-speed connectivity to the Internet," said Sriram Viswanathan, general manager of Intel's WiMax business, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "The difference here is that you're able to actually take that on the go."

Intel's WiMax business developed the chips that enable the technology.

For people with a smart phone or Global Positioning System, being connected to the Internet while away from home is nothing new. But with a WiMax connection, users would be able to download movies and music directly from their device's Internet connection to their device in minutes — with no desktop middleman required.

"Connection speeds on a phone or a smart phone or a mobile device are much slower," Viswanathan said. "We're getting very excited about it."

While the WiMax technology already exists, manufacturers are just starting to create gadgets that can accommodate it. Motorola introduced a device to use WiMax in the home this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, while Sprint announced plans to launch nationwide service of WiMax called Xohm in April. Computers will begin carrying WiMax-enabled chips by the middle of this year, according to Viswanathan.

When that happens, users of the Sprint service should be able to open up their laptops anywhere and have Internet access. But WiMax isn't limited to just the United States.

"We have approximately 50 trials worldwide," Anya Chambers, a Motorola spokeswoman, said on the trade show floor. "For a lot of the countries that might not have really great DSL or serious infrastructure problems, WiMax is offering broadband for the first time to those regions."

Imagine traveling to India and having Internet access on your phone and your laptop the moment you walk off the plane.

"People could take their laptop to another country open up laptop and get Internet anywhere," said Ross Rubin, consumer tech analyst at NPD Group. "You wouldn't have to sign up for another carrier."

WiMax would likely have another advantage to consumers — a lower cost.

"High-speed wireless is around $60 a month," Rubin said. "Sprint is targeting a $30 to $40 a month price range."

Despite its obvious benefits, WiMax still faces problems.

"The challenge for the WiMax team is can they get it out? Can they get it into devices?" said Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst for Jupiter Research. "Consumers don't care about the technology. They want to know, 'Can I get the information that I want to get to? Can I get it in the places I want to get to?'"