Wait, Wait, Wait... This Next Wireless Technology Will Be Really Fast
By Mike Masnick, Sat Dec 18 01:15:00 GMT 2004

Wireless technologies never live up to their reputation, but before anyone can get too upset, we start hearing about something that sounds so much better, just around the corner.


The first time I heard about GPRS, years ago, someone told me that it would kill DSL. It was going to be just as fast, cover the world, and (of course) be wireless. Reality turned out to be a bit different. The idea of "always on" GPRS turned out to be a joke, and the speeds are somewhere south of dialup with ridiculously high latency. However, with every new wireless data technology, someone seems to take all of the hype and assume that it's absolutely going to work as advertised. Yet, every time, reality is quite different. Still, there's just something about that "next" wireless technology that always sounds so tempting, if only you could wait.

Plenty of people were told that 3G would replace wired broadband options, but real world implementations have shown that it's not quite up to snuff either. There are a variety of issues, from technology limitations in the real world to the changing way in which people use bandwidth on computers.

For the past few months, the press has had a love affair with WiMAX as the next such technology that would be perfect for everything -- but the hype is starting to rub off that apple. Plenty of people seem to hear the specs of a new technology, showing how it will work in a lab with a single user and zero obstacles or interference, and extrapolate that out well beyond what will actually happen. They forget the famous marketing trick of the mobile industry: the "up to" clause. 802.11b Wi-Fi works "up to 11 mbps." 802.11g works "up to 54 mbps." Real speeds are nowhere near that.

Still, that doesn't stop some from dreaming about what's coming next. Siemens made some news recently by showing off a wireless transmission in the lab that hit 1 Gbps. NTT DoCoMo, who had previously held the hype lead with its 300 Mbps system has quickly responded, showing that its "4G" system can do 1 Gbps also.

While all of these are very clearly in the laboratory, it hasn't stopped the irrational exuberance about this "just wait a little longer for it" technology. Already, some are declaring Wi-Fi dead because of this technology that is barely even in the "vaporware" category, and won't see a commercial offering for probably a decade (if that fast) and won't come anywhere near matching the speeds found in the lab at short distance with one user and no interference.

It's great that researchers are working on better and better wireless technologies, but when people are constantly promised the world, and end up with something that's much, much less, at some point they're going to stop trusting the industry. They're also going to stop buying, realizing that each upgrade is based on such false promises.