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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.
New Zealand’s Woosh Wireless bought another 180 base stations from IPWireless: The order will triple the size of Woosh’s existing network. Woosh currently has 10,000 customers who can access the service anywhere within coverage area. Woosh also plans to offer voice over IP. The press release doesn’t seem to be online yet but should become available here.
Orange said it has launched a trial of IPWireless gear in Lille, France: The trial is aimed at helping the operator determine how best to use its TDD frequency. Most UMTS operators in Europe received TDD spectrum in addition to the FDD used by their W-CDMA networks. Just recently the operators seem to be really investigating their options for how to best use the TDD band. They don’t actually have tons of options. Most of the European regulatory bodies require operators to only deploy technologies in the UMTS bands that are approved by the 3GPP, which is a group of standardization bodies. IPWireless’ technology is approved by 3GPP as part of the UMTS family of standards.
Even though IPWireless’ technology is a mobile solution, operators in Europe vary on whether they’ll deploy a mobile solution or introduce a fixed, DSL replacement. They may decide on a market-by-market basis. Some operators are dedicated to their HSDPA upgrades to enable mobile data applications, planning to use their TDD spectrum for a fixed broadband offering, especially in markets that don’t already have tons of competition for broadband services to the home. Others talk of a converged IPWireless/W-CDMA solution that may enable the higher speed connectivity in pockets. The Orange trial appears to be a mobile offering.
Flarion has also been targeting cellular operators in hopes of winning deployments of its broadband wireless technologies. But Flarion faces challenges in Europe in that it isn’t part of the 3GPP family. That means it has regulatory hurdles to scale before UMTS operators can deploy its technology.