Australian wireless network Relevant Products/Services operator Buzz Broadband told attendees at an international WiMAX conference in Bangkok this month that it had experienced insurmountable problems with WiMAX. The problems included covering distances of more than two kilometers, reaching indoor locations more than 400 meters from the transmitter, and integrating VoIP telephony.

According to an Australian report cited by The New York Times, Buzz Broadband CEO Garth Freeman said his company was forced to move to a mix of other technologies after its WiMAX trials "failed miserably."

However, a number of WiMAX networks in Asia, Africa, Eastern and Western Europe and North America have not seen similar problems, said Gartner Relevant Products/Services Vice President Ian Keene. "Instead, we are seeing those networks expanding as conformance-tested products become available," he added.

"There certainly isn't any universal opinion that something is fundamentally wrong with WiMAX," Keene said. "Any technology can produce poor performances if you don't get it right."

Important Distinctions

Sprint spokesperson John Polivka said two important distinctions need to be drawn between the unsuccessful trials conducted in Australia and the successful launch of WiMAX systems in the U.S. and South Korea.

"Buzz Broadband was working with a fixed WiMAX installation in the 3.5-GHz spectrum, which is in stark contrast with Sprint's use of mobile Relevant Products/Services WiMAX technology in the 2.5-GHz spectrum," Polivka said.

WiMAX systems running at 2.5 GHz attain better building penetration than those operating in the significantly higher 3.5-GHz spectrum, Polivka explained. "Fixed systems are also heavily dependent on line of sight, whereas mobile WiMAX does not," he noted.

Polivka cited the trials that Sprint and its partners conducted in Chicago last October as an example of what WiMAX can do. "In the thick of an urban environment, and even underground in some places," Polivka said, "the signals were continuously available with no disruption." He also noted that the successful deployment of WiBro in South Korea demonstrates that WiMAX not only works, but works very well.

Proceeding as Planned

Keene thinks the poor results in Australia cannot be blamed on the underlying principles that govern the WiMAX spec.

"It's more an issue of the equipment they used, and how it was set up and managed," Keene observed. "I would not jump to the conclusion that it's the technology that's at fault. You can make a lousy system out of anything, and I am sure it is very possible to build a very lousy CDMA network," he said.

Sprint said soft launches of its Xohm-branded WiMAX in selected metropolitan markets are proceeding according to plan. Unconfirmed media reports also suggest that Intel Relevant Products/Services is thinking about boosting its commitment to the technology, perhaps by providing some financial backing to U.S. WiMAX pioneers Sprint and Clearwire Communications.

"A number of rumors are kicking around in the marketplace, about which we have no comment," Polivka said.