Prediction: WiMAX becomes real; hype dies

Since 1995, Gartner has used the term "Hype Cycle" to describe the over-enthusiasm and following disappointment that typically occurs with new technologies. It lists five phases of a hype cycle that begins with a technology breakthrough, followed by over-inflated expectations and then a period of disillusionment, when the grand pronouncements are gone and little a word is said about the technology. Yet, behind the scenes, businesses continue to experiment to understand the practical applications of the technology. And finally, the hype cycle is over as the benefits of the technology become widely accepted.

WiMAX sits between the over-inflated phase and the disillusionment phase now that Sprint Nextel and Clearwire ended their venture designed to expand the footprint of WiMAX in the U.S. It's unclear just how aggressive new Sprint CEO Dan Hesse will be with the business while Clearwire is courting partners to help it build out the network.

WiMAX is making some good progress on the device and interoperability front, but will have to compete with the stronghold of EV-DO and HSDPA networks, which are far more mature with better coverage, despite the fact they won't be as fast as WiMAX. The increasing availability of low-cost HSDPA and EV-DO dongles aimed at laptop users (Ericsson for one is pushing HSDPA for the masses hard in developing countries) will continue to intensify.

I suspect WiMAX will end up the same way W-CDMA did. Lots of hype, lots of quiet and then wide acceptance. 2008 will be the quiet phase.