If there was a big networking story in 2006, chances are it came through the airwaves rather than over wires. Most of the biggest issues involved wireless technologies or services, and they\u2019ll keep radiating out into 2007.Slow progress for fast Wi-FiThe year started with a vote on a first draft of IEEE 802.11n, the over-100Mbps standard that caused feuding in 2005. It didn\u2019t pass, but vendors got the ball rolling by building to that draft, then some worked to make their products interoperate. As impatience grew, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced it would take the rare step of certifying products before the final standard is complete. But 802.11n itself is still far off, currently forecast for sign-off in March 2008. The Wi-Fi Alliance certification, expected around midyear, offers a glimmer of hope for consumers\u00a0eager for the technology\u2019s better speed and range.Municipal wireless networksIt seemed like every big city in the United States, most smaller ones and several overseas started planning their own wireless networks in 2006. Incumbent carriers were alarmed, but AT&T eventually got into the game itself, winning a contract in Riverside, Calif. San Francisco became the focus of concerns about privacy and city control after it chose EarthLink and Google to build its network. The coming year could be a rough one for municipal Wi-Fi, because many networks are set to go live but probably won\u2019t meet expectations for coverage at first, according to municipal networks consultant Craig Settles. They\u2019ll need adjustment before they start delivering the goods later in the year, he said.A close call for RIM and its BlackBerryA patent dispute seemingly almost cut the wireless lifeline for thousands of BlackBerry users before Research in Motion (RIM)\u00a0settled with NTP in March. But Visto also sued the BlackBerry maker and NTP sued Palm, reminding users that the wireless industry is still embroiled in costly intellectual property disputes. At the same time, mobile giants Qualcomm and Nokia appear headed for a confrontation over Nokia\u2019s use of Qualcomm technology that\u2019s at the core of third-generation (3G)\u00a0mobile gear.WiMax makes a powerful friendAlthough a standard for mobile WiMax was approved in late 2005, this year saw a lot of speculation about whether the new high-speed technology would find a place amid Wi-Fi, 3G and other wireless systems. In the United States, its biggest backer was ClearWire, a small service provider with close ties to top WiMax backer Intel. But in August, Sprint Nextel, one of the biggest U.S. mobile operators and holder of radio licenses around the country that could be used with WiMax, anointed the technology as its next-generation system to complement 3G. The carrier plans to start rolling it out by the fourth quarter of 2007 and offer coverage to 100 million people in 2008, a major endorsement that will help foster an equipment market and economies of scale that will lower prices.Buyouts everywhereConsolidation in the carrier infrastructure market mirrored the big mergers among service providers, in a year that began with Verizon Communications completing its buyout of MCI and saw Alcatel and Lucent Technologies become Alcatel-Lucent by December. Nokia and Siemens also agreed to merge their telecommunications infrastructure units. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems made a play for the video market with Scientific-Atlanta. The players changed in other areas too, with Motorola buying Symbol Technologies to bolster its enterprise wireless lineup and Brocade Communications Systems buying storage switch rival McData. But one high-profile deal, AT&T\u2019s proposed acquisition of BellSouth, is coming down to the wire and may become the first big networking deal of 2007\u2014or not.-Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau)Related Links:\n\nSan Fran Selects Google, EarthLink for Wi-Fi\n\nPortland, Ore., Wi-Fi Launched by MetroFi, Microsoft\n\nBlackBerry on the Edge\u00a0(CIO.com online exclusive)\n\nFTC Delays AT&T-BellSouth Merger Decision Again\n\nMotorola to Buy Symbol Technologies for $3.9B\n\nNTP Hits Palm With Patent Infringement Suit\n\nPalm Responds to NTP Patent Suit\n\nAlcatel-Lucent Merger CompleteCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.