Biding Time

Another year, another broadband fixed wireless conference.

Another year, another broadband fixed wireless conference. This years Wireless Communications Association annual get-together, held in Boston at the end of June, was a lot like years past, except that this time we had numerous bankruptcies hanging over our heads in addition to the usual complaints about the lack of good gear.

Over two days I saw a lot of strained smiles. Vendors and operators tried to get excited and express positive outlooks despite the hard times. They talked about the great potential of the technology and touted super services and capabilities — but it all seemed forced. Since the bankruptcies of Teligent, Winstar Communications and Advanced Radio Telecom, it must be hard to feel genuinely positive.

Oddly, the number of vendors seems to have multiplied while the number of operators has shrunk. New gear makers are popping out of the woodwork with innovative new systems. I cant imagine how its possible for them to be finding funding, considering the current low point in the broadband wireless market combined with the general market downturn.

The existence of so many vendors in the Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS) market, populated mainly by Sprint and WorldCom, is especially baffling given that Hybrid Networks, which must have the lions share of the market as Sprints main supplier, may be delisted from the Nasdaq. If Hybrid is suffering, how can the others be surviving?

Vendors and operators in the MMDS space are all hoping to achieve the same things: technology that can transmit data without line of sight and units that customers can self-install. Vendors say they have the technology; operators say the suppliers arent there yet. Thus, its a bit of a stalemate. The vendors sit around with bated breath waiting for an operator to make a major deal with anyone so that some confidence can be restored in the space.

One or two things were different this year, however. In the past, especially in the Local Multipoint Distribution Service (LMDS) space, a major focus was on services. Those companies said the only way to survive was to sell all kinds of add-on services. While some companies still toe that line, others are considering the validity of straight bandwidth plays. When a company called E-xpedient/Cavu released a 100-megabit-per-second offering, in the midst of all the services talk, it seemed crazy. Im still not sure if the plan will succeed but a couple of analysts at the conference thought E-xpedient/Cavu had a good idea.

Another surprise was an AT&T Wireless presence as well as a frank discussion of its famed Project Angel, a fixed wireless broadband data and voice service. Even though AT&T designs and manufactures its own products, Michael Keith, the president of AT&Ts fixed wireless group, urged the industry to come together under standards. He even went so far as to say that AT&T would contribute some of its own intellectual property "in some form," to help put standards in place.