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Unstrung's Top Five Wireless Turkeys

Gobble, gobble! It's time to run down Unstrung's top five mobile turkeys of 2007, the wireless products and services that appeared to hold such promise and ended up tasting like Thanksgiving tofurkey. So without further ado, we present a four-part feast of failure with a side dish of suck.

Sprint's WiMax Network:
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s plans to deploy a nationwide WiMax network in the U.S. in 2008 were progressing nicely right through the summer of 2007. The operator had a supply deal with Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), a partnership with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), and -- most importantly -- a deployment agreement with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR). Sprint seemed to be on the fast track. (See Sprint Picks Nokia for WiMax, Sprint & Google: Max Headroom, and Clearwire & Sprint Team on WiMax.)

Things rapidly came unglued during the fall. Shareholders became increasingly aggravated about Sprint's disappointing financial performace and the cost of deploying the WiMax infrastructure. This first led to the ouster of CEO Gary Forsee in October and the dissolution of the Clearwire-Sprint accord earlier this month.

All of which has left Sprint's WiMax plans looking far shakier than they were at the beginning of the year. The consensus appears to be that some WiMax markets will launch next year, but probably not as many as originally envisioned. (See Sprint Nextel CEO Steps Down and Report: Sprint & Clearwire Split.)

Muni Meltdown:
Even in 2006, it seemed unlikely that municipal wireless networks could continue to be seen as a panacea for cheap wireless broadband needs in cities and towns across the U.S. Sure enough, this year has proved to be the year that the muni chickens come home to roost.

High-profile mesh projects in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and elsewhere have either hit major snags or been canned altogether. One of the major backers of large-scale muni projects, EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK), is now considering exiting the market altogether. (See Muni Meltdown, SF Muni Project on the Ropes, and What's Muni Wireless Good For?)

To a large extent, muni networks have become a victim of the massive -- and often unjustified -- hype that has preceded deployments. The dream for large cities was to easily and cheapily deploy wireless broadband for all their citizens. The reality has often been cost overruns, engineering challenges, and disappointing results, all simmered up in a big ol' stew of local politics.

There is some hope for the future, however. Heavy Reading says in its latest report that mesh equipment shipments are growing due to demand from smaller towns and cities. (See Mesh on the Up & Up?)

Europe: Convergence Gets Cold
With the notable exception of Orange France , fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) services haven't found their niche in Europe with early offerings failing to capture the public's imagination. For instance, the BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) Fusion FMCe service has been a dud ever since it launched in June 2005 as a dualmode GSM/Bluetooth offering. After more than two years of marketing, a technology revamp, the addition of WiFi access, and a few new handsets, BT has fewer than 50,000 subscribers. (See BT Launches Fixed/Mobile Phone, BT Goes Blue, BT's Flat Fusion , and Gateway Key to BT's Fusion Flop.)

BT has failed to simplify the marketing for Fusion to make it less confusing for consumers, because it's not just about cheap calls, so we're told. [Ed note: But shouldn't it be?] And, of course, the service has been hindered by the lack of choice for unlicensed mobile access (UMA)-based dualmode GSM/WiFi handsets. The operator hopes the corporate version of Fusion will succeed where the consumer service has failed. But really, BT needs to radically revamp this service -- again -- or put it out of its misery.

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) canned its FMC service, T-One, in March after just six months. Unstrung reported that the service was too expensive, poorly marketed, and lacked compelling features. At least the German operator knew when to walk away. BT should do the same. (See Deutsche Telekom Cancels FMC Service.)

Palm's Faileo:
This has to be the device disaster of the year. Ailing smartphone maker Palm Inc. , hoping to recapture some of its former innovative glory, rides the hype curve about a new device from founder Jeff Hawkins that will once again change mobile computing for the masses. The bloggers and trade press are in a frenzy.

Palm unveils the Foleo "mobile companion" at the end of May. The $500 device turns out to be a variant on the tablet PC theme and is intended to interoperate with Palm's Treo smartphones and allow users to work on documents and email that would be too fiddly to do on the tiny screen of a phone.

The idea is met with derision by most of the analyst and blogger communities and a shrug of indifference from the public. Despite Hawkins claiming that it is "the most exciting" Palm product he has ever worked on, the Foleo is canned in September. (See Palm Cans Foleo.)

BT's Mobile TV:
BT Wholesale discontinued its ill-fated Movio wholesale mobile TV service in July, less than one year after it launched in September 2006. The only customer was Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd. , and the only handset for the service was the rather unlovely Lobster 700TV, made by High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) and based on the Windows Mobile operating system.

Amongst the plethora of fragmented mobile TV standards, the service was based on digital audio broadcast -- IP (DAB-IP), which allowed for the delivery of a few mobile TV channels and digital radio. The final blow to Movio was when the European Commission backed the rival mobile TV standard digital video broadcasting -- handheld (DVB-H) -- as the single European standard for mobile TV services. (See Reding Riles Mobile TV Players and EC Backs DVB-H.)

— The Staff, Unstrung

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