WiMAX May Not Live Up To The Hype

WiMAX broadband-access technology might not be able to deliver on its promises after all. The broadband technology, in both fixed and mobile forms, has been billed as the ultimate vehicle for last-mile services. Mobile WiMAX was certain to be deployed in hard-to-reach rural areas. Nobly, it also would provide a communications jumpstart in emerging markets like Africa. At the end of March, however, the Australian edition of Communications Day (www.commsday.com) quoted Garth Freeman, CEO of WiMAX operator Buzz Broadband (Hervey Bay, Australia), calling WiMAX a "disaster" that "failed miserably."

These comments came on the heels of Buzz Broadband shutting down its WiMAX network. During a presentation, Freeman reportedly complained that WiMAX's non-line-of-sight performance was "nonexistent" beyond 2 km from the base station. He also stated that indoor performance deteriorated at only 400 m and latency rates reached as high as 1000 ms. Such latency and jitter negatively affect Internet applications as well as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)an area in which Buzz Broadband is making a major push. Instead of WiMAX, Buzz is going forward with the 1.9-GHz TD-CDMA standard and wireless DOCSIS, which uses mesh networking to extend network capabilities.

Despite news of WiMAX's potential weaknesses, not everyone is convinced that the technology is a failure. Many trials have reported consistent speeds at satisfactory distances. The problem is that these are only trials. Here in the US, however, Sprint Nextel is going forward with its XOHM launch. At the Wireless Communications Association International (WCA) 2008 later this month, Barry West, Sprint CTO and president of the company's XOHM business unit, is expected to deliver a keynote address on the company's upcoming launch of commercial mobile-WiMAX service in the metropolitan Washington, Baltimore, and Chicago markets.

Motorola (www.motorola.com) also is among the companies that are heralding mobile WiMAX's success. Pakistan's Wateen Telecom, for example, chose Motorola's WiMAX and IMS Core technology to provide wireless-broadband voice and data services. The WiMAX network was installed in 17 major cities within just nine months. At the third annual Network Middle East Innovation Awards held last year, Wateen was given an award for best Wireless Access Network (WAN) implementation. Its network was dubbed the best example of a successful wide-area-networking project in the Middle East. Clearly, mobile WiMAX is not a complete failure. Yet it remains to be seen if it will really deliver on its promises.

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