There are few areas of our lives these days that are not touched by Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) . We shun mom-and-pop retailers to grab low-priced goods at the massive discount chain. We increasingly pass our local gas stations and grocery stores and even get our digital music fix through the Borg of retail as well.
Taken to its natural conclusion, Wal-Mart's army of blue vests could one day meet all your needs and desires. In fact, recent speculation has even hinted that the giant retailer may one day provide your phone service.
That's right -- phone service.
And not just phone service, but broadband Internet and television programming to boot. Just how are we to be assimilated by the oft-cited destroyer of well-paying jobs?
The possibility centers on Wal-Mart using a wireless technology called WiMax -- basically Wi-Fi on steroids -- to provide broadband data and voice services to the population within a 30-mile radius of stores. The standard for WiMax is being worked out, and computing heavyweight Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) is throwing sizable research and marketing dollars behind the technology. Retailers such as Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) are already fueling the trend of providing broadband Internet via Wi-Fi in and around their locales, so of course Wal-Mart would one-up these small-time shops in a big way.
In theory, Wal-Mart could put a WiMax tower on top of each store and provide basic telephone (via a technology called VoIP), television, and broadband Internet all in one cheap package to surrounding homes and businesses. These packaged services are the triple play in consumer services -- a trend that cable, satellite TV, and telephone companies are scrambling to offer.
So while this is still just theory, what does it mean for the investor or consumer?
Today, nothing. While many say the idea signals the beginning of the end of traditional telecom companies, it's not all pie in the sky. While telecom upstarts are using wireless equipment from players such as Lucent (NYSE: LU ) and Nortel (NYSE: NT ) to leapfrog landline incumbents such as Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and SBC (NYSE: SBC ) , the much-hyped WiMax technology is still far from commercial release (likely late in 2005). David Gardner has also identified a few ways he thinks SBC can fend off this attack (read the analysis of his Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick by subscribing here).
So while it's fun to postulate, put this one in the wait-and-see category.
Fool contributor Dave Mock is considering legally changing his name to DaveMax -- that would be soooo cool. He owns shares of Starbucks, Lucent, and Intel.