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Canyon of Kvetching

8:30 AM -- I believe it was researchers at Gartner Inc. that first came up with the "HypeCycle" -- the curve of a technology's progress from the first enabling breakthrough through "Inflated Expectations" and the dreaded "Trough of Disillusionment" on, eventually, to the blessed "Plateau of Productivity." It's an inevitable process of marketing, adoption, and economics that almost any new technology -- including, of course, the Internet itself -- goes through.

Today, though, at least in the wireless world, it strikes me that the curve of the HypeCycle has been compressed almost to infinity, so that the same technology can be simultaneously in the inflated expectations phase AND in the disillusionment phase. Call it the quantum hype effect.

That's certainly the case, right now, with WiMax broadband wireless technology. It's safe to say that a large majority of the general population, on hearing the term, would think it's some kind of new feminine-hygiene product. Just last month CNN ran an explainer that treated WiMax as an exotic new technology that its viewers had probably never heard of.

Even tech-savvy CTOs have probably only recently heard of the term -- for them it lurks on the same horizon where "3G" loomed for so long, giving rise to 3 a.m. anxieties – "Is this something I should already know about?" "Should I be purchasing it, or at least talking to vendors?" "What if my CEO reads a story about it and demands to know why we don’t have it yet?"

Then there's the wireless industry, which is all in a swivet as every day brings another announcement of the deployment of WiMax, or pre-WiMax, or quasi-WiMax networks. (There's supposedly one in Mali, fer Chrissakes.) Impatience, if not disillusionment, has definitely set in.

"The time-to-market issue challenges the success of the WiMax market," research outfit Frost & Sullivan warns us in a press release today, with the first WiMax-certified 802.16d product expected to hit the market by next June. "With continued delays in the certification process with 802.16d and issues pertaining to spectrum allocation, other competing technologies such as WiFi and 3G will gain more momentum," cautions senior research analyst Luke Thomas.

My response to this is: Chill the freak out. While the idea of mobile broadband Internet access has been around for more than a decade, WiMax itself, as a defined standard, appeared just four years ago. From where I sit, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and the WiMAX Forum -- inevitable delays and course corrections notwithstanding -- have done a pretty decent job in getting standards and specs into place.

Roger Marks, chairman of the IEEE 802.16 Working Group in announcing approval of the 802.16e standard today (see IEEE OKs 802.16e Standard), noted that development and approval of the standard took about 36 months. That's twice as long as initially predicted, but not too bad as far as new, complex technologies with hundreds of stakeholders around the world go. How long did it take to effectively deploy other new networking technologies? Hell, I live in a canyon above Boulder, Colo., a pretty well-networked town, and (NYSE: Q) just got DSL to my house a few months ago.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are brand new wireless industries. While some industry insiders choose to hang out in the Slough of Despond, kvetching about "time-to-market issues," the people actually building and deploying this stuff are busy changing the world.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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