More witless than wireless

'Make progress, not war' should be the wireless industry's motto. More respect for the customer wouldn't hurt, either

If you want to ensure that your new technology is a success, you need to follow a few simple rules. You need a big market, so agree standards with everyone. You need to work quickly and efficiently, before the next Next Big Thing comes along. And you need to price your offering at a level that will entice budget-focused companies to invest in it.

Compared to the brain-busting challenge of actually developing an innovative new technology, this should be child's play. So the attitude of the wireless industry over issues like WiMax, 802.11n and 3G, is baffling. We've had squabbling over standards, certification delays, and pricing charges that would make a highway robber blush.

Let's take standards. Ultrawideband? After years of deadlock, the IEEE standards group gave up and walked away — leaving the market to decide between multiple identically labelled yet incompatible versions. 802.11n? After months of deadlock, a take-it-or-leave-it proposal from outside the standards body has finally scooped the pool — but everyone's pushing out pre-certification hardware that may or may not work with the finished version, or each other. 3G? One worldwide standard that's really five or six or seven, with plenty of companies — even entire countries — keen to increase the count even further.

Hear that? That's the sound of money staying in people's pockets.

When you have your standard, have you won? Is WiMax ready to take over the world? Hardly. The first products have only just been certified — after the testing lab opened six months late. We still don't even have a standard for mobile WiMax. And all the time, HSDPA is powering on (a rare bit of success in the wireless space), ready to devour that market share that was WiMax's for the taking.

Although that does assume the telcos can resist the temptation to mug their customers. Plenty of ZDNet UK readers have read about the case of Roger Steare and sworn not to find themselves presented with an £800 bill after a bit of light surfing overseas.

It may come as a shock to the industry, but its customers know how things should work. They use international VoIP over fixed-price broadband. They use universal standards such as 802.11b. They use their universal GSM phone a lot more now the domestic prices have approached sanity. What happens if you ask them to buy into anything less?

Listen up, wireless people. There's that sound again.