Nortel creates alliance to bid against mobile operators for UK WiMAX

The UK must avoid 3G auction mistakes to stay competitive warns new industry alliance.

Nortel is launching a "cross market collaboration" with new entrant wireless broadband operator Urban WiMAX to build a mobile WiMAX service in the 2.5GHz spectrum that Ofcom plans to auction next year.

Although Gerry Collins, Nortel's director of wireless for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), refers to the service as a demonstration and "a proof point", Urban WiMAX expects to resell WiMAX virtual operator services to multiple operators and brands by the end of 2008.

The service will use the 802.16e mobile WiMAX standard, which Nortel claims has five times the performance of current 3G networks. Research is needed to understand demand before setting a price and to avoid 'bill shock,' according to Urban WiMAX's chief executive Sasha Williamson.

Nortel chief technology officer (CTO) John Rose suggested WiMAX would lower wireless broadband costs by an order of magnitude, bringing it within the reach of consumers and business users alike. "We would love to have every iPod in the world connected to the internet but if it costs $50-70 a month it's only going to be a few - as in the iPhone. But if it only costs $5 we could easily have 24 million hooked up," he said.

Urban WiMAX will place base stations on Macropolitan's 9,000 urban sites on tower blocks, gyms and hotels to speed up deployment. Although each base station provides 40Mbps, that will be shared between all users; according to Nortel's Collins "some users would get 5Mbps, some might get 8Mbps depending on the chipset in their device, but the reality is, if we're offering services over the whole of the cell, the minimum bandwidth is between 1 and 2Mbps."

At the launch event Nortel demonstrated TV streamed from a Slingbox and video from an HD Toshiba surveillance camera to a UMPC with a WiMAX PC Card running at 5Mbps.

Collins also called on Ofcom not to delay the spectrum auction because of the risks to the UK's position in the world economy. "Given the time it takes to build and implement a WiMAX network this is possibly the last chance for the UK to be part of the first wave of WiMAX," he said.

"The UK has dropped out of the top three in connectivity and technology infrastructure, we can only manage sixth in European broadband penetration, with our e-readiness ranking dropping two places in just one year. We scraped into 10th place in broadband penetration and we're in the bottom half of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries on speed. The industry at large needs to meet the crisis facing the development of next generation broadband that's required to help keep the UK at the leading edge of the 21 century information economy."

The Broadband Wireless Association is backing the alliance and aims to help Ofcom "overcome its timidity", according to chairman Stephen Lowe, who added: "Ofcom could say 'we're going to allocate 2.5GHz; how are we going to write the option so somebody with shallow pockets but a really solid business case and a really groundbreaking service to offer, stands a chance of winning some spectrum against somebody who is a traditional comms provider, who doesn't understand the potential - and might have a hidden agenda of protecting existing services rather than developing new ones?"

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