Wireless Broadband War

6:00 PM -- At a time when mobile WiMax -- or 802.16e, as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) may prefer to call it -- is getting all the attention, you would think that it would make sense for the rival (let's be honest here) 802.20 wireless broadband task group to stick together and get their standard ratified as soon as possible.

Sensible? Yes. Possible? Not on your life. The nasty hair-pulling and backbiting going on behind the scenes for months at the IEEE was finally brought right out into the open today as the body said that it will completely reorganize the group, replacing all the officers, in a bid to "provide clearly neutral leadership and to eliminate perceptions of possible bias."

The group had been initially suspended in June with both Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) claiming that the other was meddling in the workings of the group. The heart of the issue is that Intel is heavily invested in 802.16e, while Qualcomm is solely backing 802.20.

So, it's a classic standards scrap between two of the giants of the industry, which can be fun for outsiders, but doesn't generally tend to advance the state of wireless broadband much.

And that, dear reader, is the crux of the biscuit. We seem to be reaching a critical mass in the industry behind Mobile WiMax, with WiBro networks already deployed in South Korea and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) saying it will launch a nationwide 802.16e network in the U.S. in 2008. (See Samsung: 4G Speed King and Sprint Goes WiMax.) Yeah, I know that the Korean WiBro networks aren't a huge success yet, but I don't find that overly bothersome. 3G and pseudo-3G networks, if you remember, took several years to really become a hit in the U.S. But these networks are now pumping significant moneys into the coffers of your friends at the phone company. So, I can't judge WiBro on the results of a couple of months. (See Carriers Look to Define the Future.) I can say, however, that South Korean giant Samsung Corp. looks to be making all the running in evolving WiBro and mobile technology and pushing it as the radio standard for "4G."

Meanwhile, Intel and Qualcomm are left squabbling over their particular vision of the future, which may already be obsolete. It's an argument that brings to mind how author Jorge Luis Borges described the war between the U.K. and Argentina in the early '80s for control of the Falkland Islands:

"Two bald men fighting over a comb." — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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