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T-Mobile USA’s head says the company to offer 3G services in 2007: T-Mobile’s plans have lagged the other soon-to-be-three much larger U.S. competitors due primarily to a spectrum deficit, but also the desire to wait out early 3G technology, it seems. T-Mobile has unlimited GPRS plans, which seems a little pokey (though reasonably priced) contrasted against unlimited EDGE (Cingular, nationwide) and 1xEVDO (Verizon Wireless, certain major cities).
T-Mobile will have to buy spectrum, and believes this will be easier and cheaper with fewer competitors in the market. The company will start offering 3G in the second half of 2006, but won’t add applications like music downloads until 2007.
Nextel is reportedly trialing gear from IPWireless: Nextel recently shut down its trial of Flarion equipment in the United States, despite its popularity. Nextel has agreed to be acquired by Sprint and Sprint has publicly discussed its interest in WiMax, once that technology becomes mobile. It’s not totally clear how an IPWireless network would fit into a future Nextel/Sprint company. But IPWireless has worked hard at trying to merge its technology with the standard mobile technologies like CDMA so perhaps it offered a better solution for ultimately delivering a combined CDMA/IPWireless network.
IPWireless also claims it will announce a major national launch in Europe in the 870 MHz band. Apparently there is some talk of the operator being T-Mobile in the Czech Republic, but given T-Mobile’s investment in Flarion, I find that doubtful. But, IPWireless targets the TDD bands so the availability of spectrum could dictate the operator’s technology choice.
I wrote a story recently for Wireless Week looking at Flarion and IPWireless in Europe. While I suspect that Flarion has a great product, it has a problem in Europe in that it isn’t a standard. IPWireless’ technology is included in the family of standards that can be deployed in 3G spectrum. Flarion’s technology isn’t, which means that most European countries would forbid operators to deploy it in their 3G spectrum. Flarion has been talking a lot recently about trying to become a part of a standard in order to open more doors in Europe but it hasn’t officially announced any plans. I would think such an effort would take many years. In the meantime, Flarion can target oddball frequencies like the 450 MHz band in Europe.
For the story, I spoke with a representative from one of the major European mobile operators about an IPWireless trial they are conducting in a major European country. I found his comments quite interesting. The operator took a very quick look at Flarion but since it couldn’t deploy the technology because of regulations, it didn’t bother looking any further. I found it particularly interesting that the operator is looking at IPWireless primarily as a way to offer fixed broadband services, not as a mobile service. The operator is already working on 3G and doesn’t really see why it would introduce a separate network like IPWireless, especially since the demand for 3G services isn’t even clear. The market for fixed broadband is very clear though so it makes more sense to target that space.
Also, the spokesperson said that having a broadband fixed network could allow the operator to enable customers to completely do away with their landlines. A lot of customers keep their landline phones only because they are required to in order to get a decent DSL rate. Those customers could fully rely on their mobile phones for voice telephony and use the IPWireless network for broadband access.
The operator has also looked closely at WiMax and while it could be an option in the future, he noted that IPWireless is available today. What WiMax promises to deliver in 2007, IPWireless offers today, he said. The operator doesn’t want to wait until then. It could migrate to WiMax down the road if it becomes a much less expensive option, but the spokesperson doesn’t expect that it will. Or, the operator could begin offering access to the IPWireless network on a mobile basis, building a WiMax network to replace the fixed service.
DoCoMo claims lack of content is delaying HSDPA drive: But Carlo Longino agrees with analysts who say that it’s the handsets that will be late, with models not appearing until mid-2006 in volume. This will almost certainly affect Cingular’s plans to some extent as the company’s statements indicate HSDPA next year, but not as early as DoCoMo was aiming for.
Sony’s Vaio T350 includes an EDGE modem for CIngular’s network: The $2,199 and up laptop is configured to work only with Cingular’s EDGE service. Unlimited service is $80 per month; $50 per month buys you 50 MB of data transfer. Given that Verizon is charging $80 per month for unlimited data at a rate that’s at least five times faster, this seems a bit rich even though Cingular already has a national EDGE network and Verizon must built its slower 1xRTT up to EVDO in most of the country.
This AP piece says that CIngular will roll out UMTS this year and next, but other reports have said Cingular will skip UMTS in favor of HSDPA, even though it means waiting, to ensure higher data speeds in the same limited spectrum.
T-Mobile goes for EDGE, but no further: They think the market is too immature and revenue unassured for true 3G flavors. They might be right. Verizon Wireless is happy with its EVDO uptake and I can find plenty of customers who rave about it. But the revenue side isn’t clear to financial analysts.
Even if T-Mobile wanted to build 3G networks, they don’t have the spectrum portfolio to do so. They expect to build a 3G network by 2007 or 2008, long after Cingular, Sprint PCS, and Verizon Wireless. This might save them money or avoid massive losses; or they could lose out on the biggest change in data networking of the decade. We’ll see.