There is no infallible way to track the next hot technology. The best barometer of what’s going to work is to wait until the product hits the market. If it floods the gates and overwhelms the public and the service providers, it’s a success. If it washes out, it’s a failure.
There is a way, however, to wedge a window and let in a little light on what’s coming. Figure out what the testing vendors are being asked to test, and you’ll at least know what the vendors and/or carriers are hoping to develop. That’s why the work Anite is doing right now in the mobile space should – and the key word is should, not will – interest the cable industry.
"The emerging technologies that we’re investing in to help our customers are in the 4G (fourth generation mobile) space in LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMAX," said Paul Beaver, director of global marketing for Anite.
Beaver pointed out that Anite’s "job in life is to help our customers get to market as quickly as possible," but also conceded that most of the company’s testing is based on products and reference designs that are at least five years away from being in the hands of the public. That means that cable – which ostensibly is still fooling around with Sprint Nextel‘s third generation (3G) mobile technology – has time to gear up a fourth generation wave that may wash over everything that’s already in place.
In simpler times, Anite would get its marching orders from vendors. That’s changed. Both ends against the middle "Over time, we’ve seen a lot of the influence move to the beginning and the end of the development process," said Scott Sullivan, vice president of American operations at Anite.
Chipmakers now have a big say in the process, as do the carriers – "people like (NTT) DoCoMo in Japan (which is pushing LTE) and in the U.S. Cingular/AT&T," he said. "We’re seeing the manufacturers are a bit in the middle between the power bases."
Anite prefers to be in the middle because it can’t afford to go out on a limb and concentrate on a single technology.
"We just have to watch and make sure we provide test solutions that go from the beginning to the end," said Sullivan. "We’re keeping the lights on with (third generation) GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment) while we’re investing in LTE and WiMAX."
There are those who believe that cable will eventually jump on the mobile WiMAX bandwagon. Sprint Nextel is already aboard, and the other mobile carriers – if the recent CTIA Wireless crowd is any indicator – are watching closely. Internationally, LTE is picking up its own crowd of backers.
Sullivan is wont to pick a winner.
"Neither WiMAX nor LTE is likely to be easy to deploy," he pointed out.
LTE, though, is more migratory than WiMAX, which is coming into mobile after proving itself in the fixed space. Mobility challenges "There are a lot of challenges to mobility," said Sullivan, speaking of WiMAX but also referencing those who would like to enter the wireless space. "To do something wireless in a hotspot has its own challenges, but to keep a call alive or a data communications alive as you go from place to place, there’s not an art, but there’s a science to that. There’s a lot of smart people working on it, but it’s going to take a little while."
Because WiMAX has relatively few skeletons in its mobile closet, it’s more open to direction. The company that leads the way into the market might just be the company that sets the standard. Right now, that company is cable’s old pal Sprint Nextel.
"They selected several vendors, and it will be interesting to watch the infighting on that one," said Sullivan. "We are definitely working with them and their vendors, but there’s still competition going on between their vendors and people who didn’t quite make the first cut."
You have to wonder, with the way the space is changing, whether there are some in the telecommunications space who not only missed the first cut, but also missed the team altogether. Only time, like the tests, will tell. – Jim Barthold