By Jeff Goldman
When the WiMax Forum launched its certification process at Spain’s Cetecom Labs in mid-July, a number of companies quickly took the opportunity to announce that their equipment had been shipped to Spain to participate – but one company was notably missing from the list: Alvarion.
Some media reports have suggested that this may be an indication of trouble at the company, but Carlton O’Neal, Alvarion’s Vice President of Marketing, insists that everything is proceeding as planned. The actual testing won’t begin for months, O’Neal says – the work being done at Cetecom right now is simply to validate the testing procedures themselves. None of the real work will begin until October, when Wave 1 of certification testing begins.
It might have been a good PR move, O’Neal admits, to have sent equipment to the lab as soon as it opened, but he says Alvarion didn’t anticipate the degree to which competing companies would use the idea of being “first to the lab” as a marketing tool.
“In the PR battle, they’re open to making whatever claims they want, but let’s just be honest and get the whole story,” he says.
And the whole story, O’Neal insists, is that nothing’s happening until October.
The rush to be “first to the lab,” O’Neal suggests, comes from a startup company mindset. “Startup companies are constantly out raising money – they’re out trying to get the latest deal to make their company survive,” he says. “And so they have a real incentive to say, ‘I’m first’ or ‘I’m best.’”
While a certain degree of that is to be expected, O’Neal says, it crosses a line when companies use those assertions to attack their competitors. “My guess is that whoever’s in the lab now is off privately at meetings telling customers or investors, ‘We’re there and we’re first,’” he says. “I don’t have any problem with people doing that privately – what I have a problem with is when they go out publicly with it and use it to cast aspersions towards Alvarion.”
Of course, Alvarion was also an early participant in a similar PR game with its release of “WiMax-ready” equipment, but O’Neal insists that those assertions were made in a different way. “What we’ve always tried to do – and we think it’s the way to compete fairly – is to talk about actual deployments and actual customers,” he says. “Yes, we’ve been out saying ‘first’ as much as anybody, but we’re trying to tell the whole story.”
O’Neal says Alvarion plans to ship its equipment to Cetecom by the end of August, in plenty of time for Wave 1 in October. “We’re sticking with our original plan of being there as the testing is starting to get going – the real testing – and still being one of the first people certified,” he says.
Similarly, O’Neal says, Alvarion plans to have certified kit available “sometime in the first half” of 2006. While other companies are promising to have products available sooner, he says, that’s just not possible. “We’re being practical,” he says. “The fact of the matter is, everybody’s not going to meet certain specs. I’m sure there will be a lot of brouhaha about people not passing, but it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s going to fail some tests, and everybody’s going to have to go make changes to their box.”
Beyond that, O’Neal says, establishing interoperability will provide further challenges – which will inevitably make the certification process take even longer. “There will be a whole set of things that need to work the same way in order for interoperability to happen, which may or may not be delineated in the spec,” he says. “Let’s just say that only happens with one element – which by the way is grossly optimistic – but everybody’s going to get in a room and argue about it.”
As a result, he says, nothing is likely to be resolved before the end of 2005. “Now, I’m as optimistic as the next guy, and I’ll go out and push as hard as I can to make that happen – but there are certain steps that have to happen sequentially in order to certified kit to pop out,” O’Neal says.