2006: Reality Sets In
Political historians may well look back at 2006 as the year the U.S. electorate, after six years of living in a terrorism-induced alternative reality, finally awoke to actual reality. In a similar yet far more promising way, the past year was also a year of coming to terms with reality for the telecommunications industry, particularly the mobile and wireless sector.
Last year at this time I wrote that 2005 had been "a time of consolidation," both of companies through mergers and acquisition, and of technologies.
"On the surface," I wrote, "it might have seemed as if progress was stalled – particularly on some key, long-awaited wireless technologies – but underneath, powerful currents were moving forward.
"In 2006, many of these hidden or unseen forces will bear fruit."
I'm pleased to say that my prediction was sufficiently vague and hedged that I can now pronounce it accurate. 2006 was a year of fruition and growing realism across the spectrum, pardon the pun, of wireless segments:
- WiFi went from being a pricey, spotty form of wireless access to being a tangible, citywide reality in municipalities across the country. (See SF Muni Deal 'Near', Microsoft Takes Muni WiFi Plunge, and Rural Rescue Mesh-ion.)
- Smartphone vendors like Palm Inc. and BlackBerry got real about extending mobile email beyond a small cadre of high-powered executives. (See Land of the Rising Smartphone, New Treo for Sprint Debuts, and Mobile Mail Markers.)
- The Big 4 carriers came, belatedly, to the realization that squeezing more minutes out of their consumer customers is not a long-term business plan, and their future lies in data and other high-margin services. (See What's a Carrier to Do?, Photo Uploads Go Real-Time, and Carriers Look to Define the Future.)
- WiMax began to get real in actual deployments. (See Grand Rapids Chooses WiMax, BT Confirms WiMax Ambitions, and WiMax: The Real Deal.)
- Reality began to seep into the overcrowded mobile-email startup space, as Good Technology Inc. was acquired by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and others, like Visto Corp. and Seven Networks Inc. , began eyeing the exits. (See Seven X $42M, Motorola Gets Good, and RIM's Unified Theory.)
- A variety of vertical enterprise sectors, from healthcare to warehouse and distribution, got serious about finding returns on investment in wireless networks beyond wireless LANs. (See Dolphins De-Wire With BelAir, AirWave Gets French WiFi, and Wireless Beyond the Warehouse.)
- Wireless LAN providers focused their attention on building bridges between their in-building networks and the wider cellular world. (See Kineto Goes Corporate, Insider Outlines WLAN Challenge, and T-Mobile Pilots WiFi/Cell Service.)
- Handset vendors didn't quit blathering about fixed/mobile convergence, but they did release some actual converged devices. (See Fixed/Mobile Handover Vexes Carriers, The Year of Calling Convergedly, and Nokia's Email Updates .)
And so on. Of course in some of these spaces -- particularly the municipal WiFi market, still in many ways a faith-based business -- reality has yet to fully take hold. In the wireless sector, hype is hype and reality is reality, and rarely the twain do meet.
In the last couple of weeks we've even seen the phrase "wireless startup IPO" become less of an oxymoron than it seemed throughout much of the year. Aruba Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ARUN) and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) have both recently filed for initial public floats and it looks likely that there will be more startups looking seriously at floating in '07. (See Aruba Files for IPO and Clearwire Takes Another Cut at IPO.)
In some ways a rash of IPOs represents the triumph of optimism over realism. But in many fields the ultimate proof -- revenue dollars flowing to the bottom line -- is now part of the pudding. It's a welcome development, and one that, frankly, is a blast to cover and to write about.
Over the next 10 days, we'll look back to review 2006 and look ahead to make some predictions about 2007. We'll give you our views on the major stories, trends, and brilliant or boneheaded maneuvers of the last 12 months. We'll spotlight the most dazzling upcoming technologies and the upstart companies you'll be hearing about in the coming year. And, hopefully, we'll shed some light and some humor on another year in the fastest-growing part of telecoms. Bookmark this page as your guide to Unstrung's Year in Review 2006, or just watch the News/Analysis section on our homepage.
And, as always, let us know how you agree or disagree by posting your thoughts on the message board or sending them to [email protected].
Happy holidays, and here's to a prosperous -- and realistic -- 2007
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung
More Year-in-Review Stories:
- Five Technologies That Won't Survive 2007
- Five Hot Technologies for 2007
- 2006: Top Ten Stories
- 2007: A Look Ahead
- 2006: Top Ten Startups
- 2006: The Quotes of the Year
- 2006 Top Ten: Emerging Trends