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WiMAX is more of a crawl than a Sprint

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CTIA Wireless Sprint is running late on its WiMAX network, which will now go commercial in the summer, and not this month, as originally pencilled.

Sprint's WiMAX service, branded Xohm, has been in trials in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, where it's apparently performing less well than anticipated.

Analysts had expected Xohm network announcements at CTIA, the big US wireless trade show running this week in Las Vegas. But instead delegates heard admission from Barry West, Sprint's CTO, that the commercial launch is slipping.

Rumour has it that much of the problem is in securing sufficient back-haul for the network, which is supposed to deliver connection speeds of up to 4Mb/sec. To support such connections every cell site needs high-capacity leased lines, which are expensive to install and maintain. Sprint wants to use microwave connections, but even getting those line-of-sight links working is taking more time and resources than anticipated.

In the UK, WiMAX deployments have used ADSL for backhaul, but the UK phone network will support connections of up to 24Mb/sec over ADSL – fast enough until WiMAX gets a lot more popular. In the US ADSL is less consistent and many cell-sites would only be able to get a few megabits of connectivity.

At CTIA, Xohm is demonstrating various devices that Sprint hopes will work with the bandwidth its struggling to provide, including a hunch-backed Nokia N810 and various notebook designs with WiMAX, and the experience is commensurate with a 2Mb/sec connection.

Sprint claims that Xohm gives it a two-year advantage on competing technologies, which is probably true if you compare WiMAX to LTE (Long Term Evolution - the competing 4G technology).

But with connection speeds topping out at 4Mb/sec at best Xohm is more comparable to HSDPA, or HSDPA+ at best, which is already being deployed. If Xohm slips any further that lead could disappear entirely no matter how much money the companies pour into it. ®

Bootnote

For all the news on the CTIA Wireless trade show see our CTIA roundup.

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