Let's talk about broadband connectivity for a moment. Today, virtually everyone has access to it, either at home or in the workplace. It has literally transformed the experience of accessing the Internet, from a slow and arduous process to one that is substantially easier and faster. Broadband connectivity can even be purchased from a variety of different service providers, thereby enabling average consumers to get the connection rate they want, at a price that fits their budget.

Of course, broadband access is not without its hiccups. Service outages do tend to happen with some service providers more than others and some providers continue to fall flat at following through with good customer service — both of which contribute to high churn. All in all though, the industry has done a good job of making average consumers wonder how in the world they ever survived without broadband connectivity.

Now that we're here, what's next? This question is especially relevant given the tremendous interest in WiMAX — a specification for fixed broadband wireless metropolitan access networks (MANs) and 3G broadband technologies like the GSM-based UMTS specification. According to Jeff Orr, director of marketing for the WiMAX Forum (www.wimaxforum.org), the answer to that question may come in the resolution of finding a way for multiple networks to co-exist.

As Orr explained, “while the old adage of ‘if you build it they will come’ may still hold true, in the case of WiMAX and 3G, the ‘it’ has yet to be defined. Since no single killer application has emerged for either technology, the real issue becomes how we provide a broadband platform that's accessible anytime, anywhere. Once this platform is available and mobile, attention will then turn to which sets of applications it can support that consumers will want to buy. Networks must be capable of transparently switching between these broadband platforms/technologies.” After all, consumers want anytime, anywhere Internet access, but that doesn't mean they want to understand the technology or technologies that make that access happen.

For multiple platforms/technologies to peacefully co-exist behind the scenes, network operators must find a technological means of bridging the different broadband technologies. An initiative from the WiMAX Forum is now working to help operators do just that. The organization seems uniquely skilled to address this task as virtually half of its membership is comprised of service providers who want this initiative to move forward so they can have the options they need. It's these service providers who have provided a set of requirements that are now under review and will be used to help formulate different options for enabling networks with multiple technologies. These options may consist of blue prints and/or a list of best practices that could be adopted by network operators.

While the initiative is still in its early stages, interest in this effort from other industry organizations is growing. The WiMAX Forum hopes that those organizations will one day provide their input into the initiative. In the meantime, the ongoing work is a solid start. For consumers, it may just be the beginning of a whole new face for the future of broadband connectivity.