Australia’s first WiMAX operator, Hervey Bay’s Buzz Broadband, has closed its network, with the CEO labeling the technology as a “disaster” that “failed miserably.”
In an astonishing tirade to an international WiMAX conference audience in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, CEO Garth Freeman slammed the technology, saying its non-line of sight performance was “non-existent” beyond just 2 kilometres from the base station, indoor performance decayed at just 400m and that latency rates reached as high as 1000 milliseconds. Poor latency and jitter made it unacceptable for many Internet applications and specifically VoIP, which Buzz has employed as the main selling point to induce people to shed their use of incumbent services.
Freeman highlighted his presentation with a warning to delegates, saying “WiMAX may not work.” He said that the technology was still “mired in opportunistic hype,” pointing to the fact most deployments were still in trials, that it was largely used by start-up carriers and was supported by “second-tier vendors”, which he contrasted with HSPA with 154 commercial networks already in operation and support from top tier vendors.
What made Freeman’s presentation most extraordinary was that just 12 months ago he fronted the same event with a generally positive appraisal of the platform which at that stage he had deployed just a few months before. At the time, Freeman said that his company had signed 10% of its 55,000 user target market in just two months, a market share that rose to 25%, on the back of an advertising campaign that highlighted value VoIP prices.
He did acknowledge at the time that the technology had indoor coverage issues, which he yesterday said had earned him a quick and negative reaction at the time from his supplier, Airspan. Other early WiMAX adopters have also reported issues with indoor coverage: VSNL in India reported indoor loss at just 200m from the base station at an IEEE conference last year.
HORSES FOR COURSES: Freeman says Buzz has now abandoned WiMAX in favour of a “horses for courses” policy. This includes use of the TD-CDMA standard at 1.9GHz—used by operators such as New Zealand’s Woosh Wireless—and a platform he described as wireless DOCSIS– a relatively little known technology that takes HFC plant and extends its capabilities via wireless mesh. He said wireless DOCSIS operates at up to 38Mbps in the 3.5GHz spectrum and its customer premises equipment supported two voice ports for under $A70 while it boasted “huge cell coverage.” He also was employing more conventional wireless mesh platforms at 2.4GHz that support up to 10Mbps with CPE voice ports costing less than A$80.
Despite his problems with WiMAX, Freeman is a believer that competitors should operate their own infrastructure and not depend on Telstra unbundled or wholesale offerings. Prior to Buzz he was involved in the rollout of regional Victorian HFC networks as an executive with Neighborhood Cable. He says the use of wireless is essential in Hervey Bay, because ADSL is blocked to 80% of the population because of Telstra’s use of pairgain and RIMs, while what ADSL ports are available are now largely exhausted. But years of successive government policies had weakened the case for standalone infrastructure, beginning with restrictive policies in the pay television market which he said undermined independent HFC deployments.
“I’m against government micromanagement of the market. Government should start to provide a conducive investment environment.”
Not all WiMAX operators are unhappy.
Internode says an Airspan-supplied network is providing consistent average speeds of 6Mbps at distances up to 30km, with CEO Simon Hackett describing the platform as “proven.”
Freeman’s frank words left many at the WiMAX event looking uncomfortable but none more so than his co-panelist Adrian de Brenni representing Opel Networks. De Brenni, standing in for an absent Jason Horley, said little new about Opel that hasn’t already been discussed, except to state that QoS would be a product feature of the future Opel wholesale offering “including voice.”