It’s no secret that both Microsoft and Google are looking at white spaces and Super WiFi as an area of growth allowing inexpensive broadband wireless signals to be transmitted over long distances.
But technology is difficult to predict – we didn’t know for sure tablets were going to cannibalize PC sales but they are and we didn’t know small, cheap hard drives were going to cut the legs out from the large, expensive hard drive market. You may know that in 1997 when I went to COMDEX and told the world TMC was going to launch a magazine called Internet Telephony – people laughed and told me it wasn’t an industry.
Ten years later after a few “overhype” phases, VoIP software maker Skype has devastated the long-distance market and is hiring by the hundred.
The point is technology does what it does – sometimes it transforms markets and other times it gives us massive bubbles of hype.
Still, as I sit here in TMC headquarters – at River Park in Norwalk… A building which is also headquarters to Priceline, I can’t think of how many times people told me Internet travel was doomed. Yet, the name your own price for travel company has a market cap of $24.5B prompting me to even call it's success revenge of the dotcom. Ecommerce was also supposed to be overhyped – but look at Amazon. Netflix was supposed to be overhyped and it is now worth $11B and even moved the markets substantially today and popped 15% or $27.84 per share as of this writing.
Point being, we don’t know what the next big thing is – but we do know that if we can find a way to take existing wireless spectrum which is unused and utilize it cost-effectively, we shatter the price/performance curve of broadband wireless and we turn pricing, investment and the wireless market as a whole on its head. And if this doesn’t scare incumbents, they aren’t breathing.
This gets us to an article written by Lynette Luna at Fierce Broadband Wireless in which she says the Super WiFi market is overhyped and that it is unlikely that it will ever live up to its promise. She does end the piece by saying this:
However, one can look back at the WiFi market in its early years and conclude that wasn't going to be much of a market either.
This was a smart move – because she now stands on both sides of the fence. No one can accuse her of taking sides but it is interesting that there are so many technologies which were “overhyped” and the people who sat out on the new markets ended up later closing down their companies or selling at fire-sale prices.
More intriguing is the fact I am only aware of a single event in this overhyped space... Next week collocated with ITEXPO is the world’s first Super WiFi Summit. The interesting thing about this event is that my company, TMC partnered with Carl Ford and the Crossfire Media team to host the conference. If you remember, Carl worked with Jeff Pulver back in the day to launch and run the very successful VON shows which also started out at a time when VoIP went from being a niche market to hyped to what many called overhyped.
In a way, I see Super WiFi as similar to VoIP as it should allow any company to develop technology which disintermediates incumbents.
I asked Carl for his comments on the above-referenced article and he pointed out that ATM was a technology which was also overhyped. He then went on to refer to communications legend Tom Evslin who has pointed out that if you can do so much with the poor spectrum allocated to WiFi, imagine what you can do with white space. Moreover, Ford continued by saying white spaces may be integral in the roll out of 5G according to his discussions with FCC representatives.
In the nineties, it would be crazy to think that Ford, Pulver or I knew exactly what would happen to the IP communications space and that the market would see a few bubbles burst before a massive multibillion dollar market would be born.
Likewise with Super WiFi – I am not 100% sure it will be the future of wireless but I realize the absolutely massive potential to transmit wireless broadband over unused frequencies is staggering and an entire market for chips, devices and resale of this spectrum could open up overnight.
And with such big names taking time from their busy schedules to participate in the conference can you afford not to take it seriously? Keynote speaker Jeff Ford for example is now CEO of Apriva but he was one of the original VoIP disruptors at Inter-Tel’s global wholesale division in the nineties. Brough Turner is now the founder of netBlazr but he was the CTO of NMS when they created one of the world’s first Internet telephony gateways in the nineties. Mary Evslin was VP of Marketing at ITXC – another early Internet telephony disruptor.
Then there are the really big names in wireless who are participating. Bob Friday from Cisco is Dir. Strategic Initiatives & Business Development of the Wireless Networking Business Unit, Rick Whitt is the Washington Telecom and Media Counsel at Google, Akshay Sharma from Gartner Dataquest and Todd Rowley the VP of 4G at Sprint.
I could go on but suffice it to say, if I am about to walk into the world’s first event on an over-hyped technology, I’d want to be in the company of all of these people.
Perhaps the best way to end this post is with a comment from Carl who says:
The article from Lynnette Luna reflects the concerns of some in the legacy world. Lynette, here is an open invitation to come and see the innovators at Super WiFi Summit yourself so you can judge where the market is going after talking to the experts.