Why Would Anyone Think Wireless Is Easy?

Last week, we heard news from Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom that technical hurdles are delaying mobile phone versions of Skype. Apparently, according to Zennstrom, “When we begun developing the mobile phone version we didn’t realize the number of technical obstacles. It is challenging and is taking much longer than expected”. Why does it seem that many businesses and experts that got their foundation on the Internet (or fixed infrastructure) seem to assume that the wireless telecom world will be an easy incremental step for them to conquer? Citing just recent examples, there’s Zennstrom above, Chaska’s former MuniWiFi planner Brad Mayer who said, “there was a lot of pre-conceived notions that you could just blast [Wi-Fi signals] through walls and trees and everything”; and there are the Mobile WiMAX people who continue to think that creating a fixed wireless standard and making it mobile is trivial: Paul Otellini said at the Intel Developer’s forum in September 2004 that Intel would include 802.16 technology into its processors in 2005 (I’m still waiting). People, let’s get it straight — mobile wireless technology is half art, half science, and half voodoo (you don’t like it, talk to my math profs). Stuff that works in the lab, or on a fixed network, or in a single office with one AP does not easily translate to a high-speed, cellular, rural, cityscape, multi-path, NLOS, battery powered, handheld, mobile, wireless context. Surprise! Even the technologies that come from savvy mobile standards groups (like W-CDMA from 3GPP) have to go through year-long teething pains, so naturally less savvy groups not familiar with the voodoo will face even greater hurdles.

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