Assembling the special report on "Broadband Technologies" beginning on p. 33 proved to be more than just the routine task of compiling data and making telephone calls. Occasionally, a term becomes so ubiquitous that its original meaning becomes distorted. Such has been the case with "wireless technology" (which most folks accept as synonymous with "cell phone") and appears to be the case with "broadband technology."

Attaching meaning to any term related to technology is an evolving process almost by definition. In the wireless case, for example, at one time the cellular telephone was a fairly representative product of the technology. Today, however, wireless has come to mean much more, in terms of short-range technologies such as Bluetooth and ultrawideband (UWB) approaches, network technologies such as IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n wireless local-area networks (WLANs), and microwave/millimeter-wave radio point-to-point technologies.

In trying to define broadband technologies (ignoring for the moment the implications of military systems), the critical information for most systems is data and video. Because of the near-term importance of high-speed Internet access, current suppliers of broadband hardware promote their Internet Protocol (IP) capabilities and maximum data rates. Data rates, of course, vary greatly from system to system and what was considered broadband a decade ago might is nearly obsolete now (remember the 56-kb/s modem?). By the same token, today's high-speed technology may be inadequate for a customer's needs a few years' hence.

It is not surprising to find companies associated with computers and the Internet, such as Cisco Systems, Intel, and Microsoft, to be at the forefront of efforts to define broadband technology. All three have made technical presentations at past Wireless Systems Design Conference & Expo (formerly the Wireless Symposium & Exhibition) promoting their roles in wireless solutions. All three would just as quickly admit that a true broadband solution could just as easily include optical fibers as wireless transceivers.

A true long-term broadband technology solution is one that will offer high-speed data and video beyond today's definition of high speed or broadband. It may consist of a hybrid mix of such technologies as UWB, optical, and millimeter-wave technologies that do not have the inherent bandwidth limitations of their lower-frequency counterparts, such as cellular and WLAN technologies, especially for that cost-sensitive "last mile" connection to a subscriber's home. In any case, broadband applications will not be served by any one technology, but represent opportunities for many.