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Kerbango launches Web site, plans Net radio appliance

The Internet start-up hopes to make some noise in the Net music industry with plans for a standalone Internet radio appliance.

An Internet start-up called Kerbango hopes to make some noise in the Net music industry with plans for a standalone Internet radio appliance.

Although the company launched a Web site today that will act as a portal for Internet radio stations, Kerbango hopes to stand out from the crowd with its standalone radio appliance.

"Internet appliances are looking like they are going to become a big market, but nobody has focused on simple radio appliances that pick up Internet radio stations," said Jim Gable, president of Kerbango.

Consumers can already download MP3 and other music files to portable players, but they MP3: Sound and furyneed a PC to find and download music to the device. There's a cottage industry around Web sites that make it easier to download and manage these music files, with among the most recent entrants.

Kerbango's plan is different because it is working on a device that will be able to play back streaming audio without the use of a PC. It also differs from other music players because users can listen to live broadcasts directly from the device.

Users will be able to tune the radio to Internet radio stations by using a knob just as they would with a regular AM/FM radio. But instead of being limited to a set number of stations, a large number of worldwide stations could be grouped according to themes and accessed by preset buttons, and the device could be designed to store radio shows for playback at the user's convenience, sources said.

Instead of using an antenna, the Internet radio will be connected to the Internet by a built-in modem; plans for a device that connects to the Internet through high-speed cable and DSL modems are planned as well, the company said.

The device will incorporate RealNetworks' G2 software for playing streaming media, Gable said, which marks another win for RealNetworks outside of its dominant standing in the PC market. Recently, Real announced that its software was being used in the WebTV Internet set-top and cable set-tops that Liberate Technologies is developing.

"We don't have to go to every Internet radio station and say 'Please do things different,'" said Gable. Although the company plans on later adding the ability to play back other streaming content types, Real was chosen for the first iterations of Kerbango's radio because about 85 percent of Internet radio stations use Real technology, according to Gable.

The unnamed device, which is still in the design phase, is expected to be introduced in the first quarter of 2000. The company is seeking manufacturing partners as well.

Prototypes proliferating
Analysts expect the market for information appliances will mushroom in volume by 2002, surpassing the PC market in size. One of the early information appliance hits appears to be portable digital music players.

While a growing number of companies, including Sony, are developing portable devices, Kerbango is one of the first to talk about a standalone Internet radio. It won't be the last, however.

A company called Penguin Radio is working on a similar device that is based on the Linux open-source operating system and an Intel processor.

In another sign that the once freewheeling community of developers that gave birth to Linux is maturing, the company is getting early financial backing from some big names.

According to Andrew Leyden, the company's founder, the Penguin Radio already counts among its investors Michael Malaga, CEO of Northpoint Communications, a leading DSL provider; Robert Engel, managing director of Gleacher and Company, a well-known New York-based investment banking firm; and John Gunn, founder of Telerate, a financial data services firm.

Another company that just popped up on the radar screen this week is Sonicbox. The company wants to offer Internet music on standalone radios, too, but unlike Kerbango, Sonicbox will stay connected to the PC.

Sonicbox will offer a device that attaches to PCs with high-speed Internet cable modem or DSL connections. The base-unit tuner, which is attached to a PC, sends data to a remote tuner that then transmits a signal for playback on the nearest regular FM radio.