Wireless loses its way

It seems impossible to create a wireless standard without acrimony. This could be fatal to 4G plans
Written by Leader , Contributor

Something has gone wrong with wireless. Ultrawideband is late and disappointing, after years spent in futile standardisation debates. The 802.20 group is suspended in a blizzard of unsavoury accusations, 802.11n is deadlocked and 802.16e struggles to keep ahead of the market. Meanwhile in telecoms, 3G is gradually evolving into a practical mobile broadband system — but will never be able to deliver the bandwidth required to back up the dreams the operators are selling. Yet a sensible path to 4G is harder to spot than the Yeti...

The only point of agreement among 4G players is that this time, convergence needs to be more than ideas stolen and furtively bolted on. Data networking and telecommunications are now the same thing: future standards must reflect that. But with each camp congenitally unable to reach agreement among its own members, the chances of a true converged standard emerging seem desperately slim - and without that, the global market for future equipment and services will be held back by years.

The greed, suspicion and short-sightedness that currently characterise the industry must be overcome. Current standardisation forums are not up to the job: they only work when good will and openness are practised as well as preached and, like the United Nations, they reflect the way things were, not how the world is today.

A new standards body will have to understand globalisation just as well as it does the implications of new technology. It will have to have the authority to deal with governments over frequency allocations, with companies over intellectual property disputes — currently the most caustic poison in the system — and with consumers over setting and meeting aspirations.

Self-discipline is not the most obvious attribute of the wireless industry, but it can be done. Existing standardisers, regulators and corporate leaders must show they have clarity of vision over the future of the industry, as well as the will to make it happen. Otherwise, this most promising of sectors will choke on its own contradictions — even as it has the chance to evolve the best, most revolutionary standards of all.

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