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Gartner: WiMax all hype, VoIP for real

Ben Vigil, Technical Editor

p>SAN FRANCISCO -- There are a number of over-hyped networking technologies today, but which ones will pan out over the long term? At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, analysts discussed the present and future of networking technologies like WiMax, MPLS, EV-DO and VoIP, offering insights on which ones they consider ready for adoption and which are more hype than substance.

The Stamford, Conn.-based research firm regularly tracks emerging technologies to gauge their evolution and whether they're appropriate for use by businesses. Gartner believes that emerging technologies follow a five-phase cycle, which it refers to as a "hype cycle." In a nutshell, those phases are emergence, hype, disillusionment, enlightenment and finally productivity.

"Not all technologies fit neatly into the curve," said Eric Paulak, a managing vice president at Gartner. "But by tracking the market, we hope to predict when a new technology is all hype or when it is ready to take off."

More hype than reality

One emerging technology that has been confronted by reality is WiMax. WiMax uses a widespread wireless spectrum to provide fixed and mobile broadband access across distances of 10 miles or more. Many believe it will compete with DSL and cable modems for residential and small business broadband access by 2008.

Not so fast, according to Paulak.

"WiMax does not have a clear picture," Paulak said, conceding that WiMax had a lot

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of promise, but there are still several issues to be addressed.

For instance, it still conflicts with some analog TV signals, and the massive infrastructure needed to make WiMax work will need to be built by someone. "Currently, companies are too busy buying each other to make the financial commitment that WiMax would require," Paulak said.

Another technology that is seemingly on the fast track to adoption is Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO). The wireless standard is used largely for transferring media files to wireless devices like cell phones.

"The hype of EV-DO is based on expected download speeds of 500 Kbps, but the reality does not match the hype," Paulak said. He added that environmental conditions, fixed line speeds and bottlenecks often prevent consistent download speeds. Asked Paulak, "What happens when you pay for 500 Kbps speeds and get 5 Kbps?"

Maturity and visibility

A technology's position on the hype cycle is determined by charting its maturity versus its visibility. Based on Gartner's current analysis, both Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and VoIP are moving toward the maturity side of the graph.

Paulak stressed a distinction between VoIP and the more broadly defined technologies that fall under IP telephony, which is lagging behind on the hype cycle. "VoIP is just a mechanism, but it will eventually enable the full functionality of IP telephony, as well as other voice-related functionality like unified communications," he said.

According to Paulak, MPLS, a networking paradigm intended to improve performance by labeling the data in each packet, provides the quality of service (QoS) capabilities needed for a company to migrate to an all-IP network.

"Right now the MPLS market is dominated by MCI and AT&T, which own 90% of the market," Paulak said. The only problem with MPLS is that different carriers offer different levels of service, and they usually cannot bridge MPLS networks.

The fact that VoIP and MPLS are both moving toward maturity on the Gartner's hype cycle is no coincidence, Paulak said, because the QoS guarantee provided by MPLS can improve the performance of a VoIP system.


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