The brief history of WiMAX is an interesting study in technology development, standardization and spin control. The idea for WiMAX came about in the wake of the telecom bubble…, when generating hype about what technologies could do was anathema. WiMAX is also - by name as well as by function and association - a cousin of Wi-Fi, which hasn't exactly become firmly ensconced as an indispensable technology tool in the telecom service provider quiver. When Wi-Fi's new maxed-out cousin came onto the scene, it already had that (perceived) strike against it..
So it should come as no surprise that the WiMAX powers that be - namely, the WiMAX Forum and the companies comprising it - have been very careful to control the spin, downplay the hype and shroud the technology's certification processes in a veil of mystery. Without that level of control, excitement about WiMAX's potential as a broadband access form could have continued unabated, with people within and outside of telecom making assumptions about WiMAX that ultimately could have resulted in letdowns..
But now it's beginning to feel like the WiMAX community has taken the protection of its brainchild too far. A postponement of the WiMAX Forum's product certification process earlier this year led to rampant speculation that the forum was changing direction or its position on support of certain versions of WiMAX. True or not, the conjecture - accompanied by the forum's relative silence on the issues - didn't do much for the nascent technology's still-forming reputation in service provider circles..
Those wrinkles in the WiMAX maturation process seem to be ironed out, for the most part, at this point. But now a new potential quandary is rearing its head: potential WiMAX deployers' impatience with the process that will bless WiMAX gear as "certified." As Dan O'Shea points out in this month's cover story (page 20), smaller broadband wireless players such as wireless ISP NextWeb are looking at moving ahead with RFPs for WiMAX gear in advance of any official equipment certification. That's probably not the kind of publicity the WiMAX Forum wants..
The best answer might be for the forum to let market forces (like NextWeb's plans) govern the pace of WiMAX deployment. On one hand, that action could speed up the whole process and lead more quickly to high-volume production and thus lower component costs. On the other, it could protect the forum and its backers from further backlash if WiMAX doesn't meet the industry's broadband expectations, as many industry pundits are now predicting. (MORE)