Sprint's Xohm CTO aggressively defends WiMAX

Barry West, the CTO of Sprint's Xohm business division, hit back at WiMAX skeptics Tuesday by delivering the message that "WiMAX is here now, and it works."

During his presentation at the Wireless Communications Association, West acknowledged that deploying WiMax had been "much more difficult" than he thought it would be, but still asserted that WiMax was a "revolutionary" technology that would bring consumers and businesses high-speed wireless broadband two years before Long Term Evolution (LTE) becomes widely deployed.

Xohm, which serves as Sprint's high-speed wireless Internet division, began its soft launch of WiMax technology in Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C. earlier this year, with a wider launch planned for other major U.S. cities slated for later this year. The technology has faced criticism over the past year as an over-hyped technology that isn't as reliable as High-Speed Packet Access 3G technology, and even as a "disaster" by Garth Freeman, the CEO of Australian WiMax operator Buzz Broadband, who described problems such as latency, jitter and poor indoor service. WiMax equipment vendor Airspan, however, said Buzz Broadband cut corners in its deployment, and that is failure should not reflect on WiMax.

West took the WiMax critics head-on at the WCA today, particularly companies that have adopted LTE as their next-generation wireless broadband technology. Noting that LTE services are years away from hitting the market, West accused the LTE camp of "not having anything to offer" for the time being, which is why "they're trashing the system that's out there working."

West also noted that WiMax was far ahead of LTE in terms of having partnerships within the industry, with "19 companies offering chipsets, 28 companies offering devices, and 29 companies offering infrastructure."

While West wouldn't commit to a firm date for officially launching WiMax commercial services within the United States, he did say that Xohm was slated to do it "later this year." Other than the three cities that Xohm has committed to in its soft launch, West declined to name any other cities that would be part of the commercial WiMax launch. West also said that he expected to see the first WiMax-powered device approved within the next 60 days, and that "we're going to see WiMax in just about everything" by the start of 2010.

According to West, the big drivers for WiMax have been enterprise users, whom he said wanted a wireless Internet service that had the convenience of Wi-Fi and the ability to properly secure and encrypt data sent over the air. Additionally, West said that WiMax could provide enterprises with secure hotspot coverage both inside and outside the office, thus allowing workers to connect to "a hotspot the size of a city."

During a question-and-answer session after his address, West declined to comment on recent rumors that Time Warner Cable and Comcast are negotiating a deal to invest in a new nationwide WiMax company that would be jointly operated by Sprint Nextel and Clearwire, and said that "the big announcement is that WiMax is here and it works."

Sprint and Clearwire had previously signed a letter of intent to jointly build out a nationwide WiMax network last summer, but then called off their plans months later, as the companies said they "could not resolve complexities" involved in the original plan.

Former interim CEO Paul Saleh told an investor's conference last year that the original plans with Clearwire fell apart because having a WiMax network split between the two companies had simply become too complicated, and the companies were worried that it might confuse customers. So far, Sprint has dedicated roughly US$5 billion to rolling out WiMax nationally.

This story, "Sprint's Xohm CTO aggressively defends WiMAX" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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