Industry analysts John Yunker of Pyramid has provided an invaluable briefing on Wi-Max that asks all the big questions. Wi-Max is increasingly being mentioned in the African context because of its obvious relevance to town and rural contexts. Read the briefing and see what you think.

What is WiMAX and Why Should We Care?

WiMAX stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access and it is the latest, and most-hyped, generation of fixed wireless technology in years. What differentiates WiMAX from earlier broadband wireless access (BWA) iterations is standardization. Chipsets are currently custom-built for each broadband wireless access vendor, adding time and cost to the process. Intel, Fujitsu and others would like to bring scale to the market and, ideally, create a larger market along the way. Similar to the way that the Wi-Fi Alliance enforced standards compliance among vendor members, the WiMAX Forum plans to do the same among its members. Compliance results in interoperability, which in turn results in plug-and-play products. In the years ahead, WiMAX vendors no longer have to provide end-to-end solutions; they can specialize on base stations or wireless modems. Specialization will result in competitive pricing and value-added innovations.

And now for a reality break...

We believe that WiMAX will succeed commercially, but not easily, nor quickly. There is a great deal of vendor resistance, operator reluctance and general market confusion at work. Based on research conducted for our report WiMAX and Wi-Fi: Unwiring the World we have found that:

1. Fixed wireless operators are not very enthusiastic about WiMAX. Operators have been burned by last-mile promises in the past and most are not eager to test first-generation WiMAX equipment. Does this mean WiMAX won’t succeed? Absolutely not. But it does mean that vendors need to recruit a few high-profile operators to build real-world success stories early. Operators will come to embrace WiMAX, but only after the bugs are gone and the prices are competitive - 2005 at the earliest.

2. WiMAX will evolve in two distinct stages ­ the second stage will be disruptive. The first stage begins next year, with new equipment that will be priced and function a lot like existing BWA equipment. Not very exciting. The second stage is where the true disruptions will begin ­ for more information, check out our report.

3. WiMAX has split the vendor community. Because vendors see such dramatic (and painful) changes coming, many are lining up against WiMAX. Expect the chorus of pros and cons to grow louder and a bit nastier in the months ahead.

4. Hot markets will be CEE and Asia-Pacific. Fixed wireless will show greatest adoption Central and Eastern Europe and throughout Asia ­ regions where fixed infrastructure is low. The US could also see a rebirth in fixed wireless next year thanks to Nextel. In fact, Nextel might be the ideal operator for an Intel/Alvarion WiMAX rollout.