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WiMAX has 'failed miserably'

Aussie pokes WiMAX bubble

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Australian wireless carrier Buzz Broadband has shuttered its WiMAX network, describing the technology as a "disaster" that has "failed miserably".

Speaking at an international WiMAX conference in Bangkok, Garth Freeman, CEO of Buzz, claimed the technology didn't work indoors more than 2Km from the base station and had latency as high as a second. High latency is a problem for many internet applications, including the VoIP service that Buzz promoted to get customers.

The lack of in-building penetration is a result of using high frequencies, which can carry lots of data but have shorter ranges and can't get into buildings, as anyone using a 3G network will testify. There has been a hope, in the industry, that WiMAX would magically solve these problems but radio frequency physics remain problematic.

The industry was quick to blame Airspan, which provided the infrastructure to Buzz, but the supplier was equally quick to blame its customer, saying that cost-cutting had led to an ineffective network.

"With regard to range ... Buzz Broadband opted to go with the less-expensive micro-cell base stations to reduce cost," Declan Byrne chief marketing officer at Airspan, said in an open letter.

But the failure of Buzz has also been attributed to its business model, which contrasts with the success of KT Corp's WiBro deployment in South Korea - always held up as the proof that mobile WiMAX can succeed. KT didn't try and sell VoIP services, and was covering an urban area where denser deployment of cells makes in-building penetration less of a problem, so indicating the kind of service WiMAX is more suited towards.

Hopefully, the lesson won't be lost on Comcast and Time Warner, who are apparently in talks aimed at funding a US-national WiMAX network to be run by Sprint. The Wall Street Journal reports that Comcast would sink in $1bn, with Time Warner putting up $500m, though the deal is still under negotiation.

One failed deployment will do little to derail the WiMAX juggernaut. But Buzz should serve as a useful lesson in what can go wrong with WiMAX, and how to avoid it.

Buzz will continue to offer wireless connectivity in Australia, but not with WiMAX. ®

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