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Buying Into Wireless Broadband

Remember when your 14.4kbps modem made you the coolest kid on the block? You could blow away all those 9.6kbps wannabes and download the latest ASCII battleship game in hours. Oh, how the world has changed.

Upping the ante on your gaming buddies now means you'll be opting for one of dozens of new broadband offerings that offer an astounding 100 times the speed of your old Hayes dinosaur. In the last few weeks, a slew of announcements from major wireless and telecom players has opened up a plethora of offerings that allow one to not only consume bits faster than ever before but also to do it while mobile. Now that is cool.

Wireless giants Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ  ) and Sprint PCS (NYSE: FON  ) started the show earlier this year by announcing a nationwide push to outfit their mobile networks with Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) EV-DO technology, giving consumers 300-500kbps over the same reception area of your wireless phone.

Not to be left out, hefty competitors such as Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) have been throwing big money at a future technology called WiMax, which will basically boost the speed and coverage of what consumers have seen with Wi-Fi hotspots. And speaking of Wi-Fi, private hotspot aggregator Boingo Wireless has just partnered with VoIP firm Vonage to offer voice capabilities to those signed up for Boingo's Wi-Fi data service.

Not to be outdone, SBC Communications (NYSE: SBC  ) announced that it would slash the price of its Wi-Fi service (more than 3,900 hotspots) to a mere $2 per month. The company is seeking to convert its DSL base of 4.3 million into mobile broadband junkies by bundling free Wi-Fi for six months ($2 thereafter) with its Yahoo! DSL service packages. David Gardner has his money on SBC as a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick (check out what's in his head with a free trial here).

Rumblings of even more intriguing competition coming to the market are from young entrants with big backing. Private player Flarion has been telegraphing its future recently with vendors Siemens (NYSE: SI  ) and Netgear (Nasdaq: NTGR  ) both signing on to build equipment based upon their Flash-OFDM wireless technology. Nextel Communications has Flash-OFDM service in North Carolina, but the equipment deals foretell a much wider deployment possibly coming. Add in broadband over power lines, and Craig McCaw's dark horse, Clearwire, and 2005 is shaping up to be a defining year for broadband.

The end game for all this activity is twofold -- consumers will see cheaper mobile broadband service, and investors will have their picks battling in a more cutthroat market.

The first issue of David Gardner's new ultimate growth service is out. Take a free test drive here, and see what his money is on.

Fool contributorDave Mock's keen knowledge of Hayes modems and ASCII foretells his nerdlinger roots. He owns shares of Intel.

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