Confused promises don't help WiMax

A WiMax marketing hotspot can spread hype, promises and confusion over a radius of 70km. Could we just have cheap mobile broadband, please?

Nokia is annoyed. It's annoyed that WiMax, for all its good points, has been overhyped and won't have anything like the impact promised.

The frustrated Finns are right. We need affordable mobile wireless broadband, and fixed WiMax — otherwise known as 802.16d — is not that. It's not even here; neither you nor I nor its most fervent boosters have seen a certified product yet. When it arrives, it has no chance of competing with the established wired broadband that saturates the country. It may fill in around the edges. It may be a godsend in developing countries. It will never be mass market here.

Mobile WiMax — 802.16e — has a better chance to provide ubiquitous high speed access on the move, or rather on paper. So have competing standards such as HSPDA and WiBro, both of which are much better rooted in the real world. But then, the final 802.16e standard is already a portmanteau of incompatible options and could well include aspects of either. It's hard to tell amid the mish-mash of mislabelled pre-standard deployments and hopeful, imprecise promises.

The industry players are addicted to poker games between themselves, in the mistaken belief that bluff, hype and short-term gamesmanship are all that are needed to anoint a winner — and that customers will take what we're given, when we're given it, and be grateful.

It doesn't work like that. We've seen UWB hyped and fall short, 802.11n hyped and fall short, 3G hyped and fall short: in each case, time to market is stretched and the advantages of proper standardisation are compromised because of the industry's failure to get its act together.

We know what we have, which is overpriced and underperforming wireless data, and we know that when people work together properly they can give us success stories such as Wi-Fi. Forget the technologies: co-operation and cohesion are the key inventions that'll give us the wireless services we need.