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The Wall Street Journal reports that Sprint Nextel said no to $5b and a return of Nextel’s CEO from SK Telecom, Providence Equity Partners: The investment would have been in the form of convertible securities at a 20 to 30 percent premium over Sprint’s current stock price, and would have carried the return of Tim Donohue, who had headed Nextel when it was acquired by Sprint, and was chairman until 2005. The combined firm is worth slightly more than Nextel’s value when acquired, but Sprint has also sold some assets, notably its landline division.
SK Telecom is working on its own WiMax network, with the compatible WiBro flavor deployed (but with few customers) in South Korea. It also has an interest in its former division SK Teletech (now SKY), which makes advanced CDMA handsets that would work on Sprint’s network.
Further, SK Telecom is now the majority partner in the joint venture with EarthLink called Helio, which brings those selfsame advanced handsets into the hands of American youth (primarily) as an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) buying most or perhaps all its minutes and data transfer from…Sprint Nextel.
The Sprint board said no, and declined a face-to-face, even.
Monica Paolini files a report on trying WiBro in Seoul: Paolini, who runs the analysis firm Senza Fili Consulting, was able to get 500 Kbps to 2 Mbps performance down and 250 Kbps to 500 Kbps up within the coverage area. She could even make Skype calls on the 19th floor of her hotel, despite Korea Telecom promising only coverage up to the fourth floor. The network was quite busy with other users similarly testing the network in the same location. This is first-generation WiBro with single input and output antennas. Paolini predicts better performance when MIMO is added.
Paolini identifies a more salient factor in why Asian telecoms get such huge uptake on data services in general: KT is pushing user-to-user operations, such as messaging and video calls. They’re not stressing high-download, walled-garden passive content.
WiBro uses the 2.3 GHz band with an 8.75 MHz channel, which Paolini notes was developed as a Mobile WiMax profile for the Korean market.
The mobile WiMax-like technology has seen a, shall we say, slow start in its native land: South Korea’s operators have rolled out WiBro far ahead of similar technology in other nations. The service launched a year ago June, and KT Corp. has acquired 479 subscribers, while SK Telecom has a whopping 15. Coverage is limited to parts of Seoul, however. And there are no WiBro handsets, either. By contrast, 31,000 HSDPA phones have been sold. [link via TechDirt]
Samsung showed several devices using WiBro at CES: WiBro is an early version of 802.16e, which will be the basis for what is loosely being called mobile WiMax in the U.S. and elsewhere. Fixed WiMax is based on 802.16-2004, which allows for fixed receivers in a couple of long spectrum ranges, including mostly licensed frequencies but also unlicensed 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. WiBro has already appeared in South Korea with more to come. The devices are a bit bulky, and a representative at the booth told me that a WiBro phone doesn’t have much talk time, but couldn’t provide an exact number. They showed a laptop with a WiBro card, too.
Because WiBro operates at 2.3 GHz in South Korea, a range not available in the U.S., and because 2.4 GHz probably has too many limits, 2.5 GHz is the most likely band to be used, but it’s mostly tied up by Sprint Nextel, and is in the middle of a reorganization. The Samsung rep said that they were working on a 3.5 GHz flavor for Europe, but colleague Monica Paolini noted that that band would have propagation characteristics that were poor for mobility.
Interestingly, I couldn’t pin down the Samsung rep on how they were running WiBro in the booth, which they were claiming to do and apparently were. It’s possible they used 2.4 GHz at low power (because the devices were pinned to the displays, the distance needed was quite short).
KT has shown off the homegrown mobile wireless data standard, WiBro: The standard has aspects of mobile WiMax and cellular technology, and may wind up converging with international mobile standards in the future. KT claims access at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour. They have two access devices that can function as WiBro modems and for voice calls. The service will roll out next year.
Nortel announced it will release fixed and mobile WiMax products: They’ll work with Airspan on 3.5 GHz and 5.8 GHz fixed WiMax, and help Intel promote the overall idea of WiMax. They’ll have commercial versions available in early 2006 for fixed WiMax. On the mobile side, they’re developing WiMax and WiBro implementations, which they plan to put into trials in 2006 in North America.
KT is hoping to converge its CDMA and WiBro networks: An executive spoke at the WiMax Forum meeting and he said that KT will hope to offer converged client devices that include CDMA, WiBro, and Wi-Fi. Because Korea will likely be the first to have a widespread mobile broadband wireless network when KT launches WiBro in the middle of next year, it’ll be the place to watch. If KT uses WiMax to essentially boost the speed of its CDMA network and if it meets success, other mobile operators around the globe may think harder about using WiMax themselves.
Intel said it will work with KT Corp. on interoperability of WiBro and WiMax: WiBro is the Korean broadband wireless standard. This alliance isn’t hugely surprising or interesting given that we already knew that Korea had decided to work to harmonize WiBro and the mobile version of WiMax.
Adaptix said LG Electronics will use Adaptix channel cards in its WiBro products: WiBro is the Korean mobile broadband wireless standard which eventually should merge with 802.16e. The press release and Adaptix Web sites are pretty heavy on marketing-speak and light on details, but it looks like Adaptix primarily builds software, specifically software defined radio solutions for OFDM-based systems.
This would be a pretty big coup for Adaptix. Given that LG is a Korean company, it’s likely to do some good business selling WiBro gear in Korea. This will also offer Adaptix good experience and something to brag about when trying to make sales in the WiMax world, since WiBro will hit the market before mobile WiMax.
This brief item from CNet is pretty misleading: The article makes WiBro sound like a new technology developed to allow users to watch TV on their cell phones. While I’m not totally clear on the timeframe, WiBro has been in the works for around the same time if not longer than WiMax. It is a technology developed in Korea as a mobile broadband wireless technology. But since it is based on OFDM, like WiMax, and since it became clear that Korea would become perhaps the only country to deploy WiBro, the two camps are now working together to ensure interoperability of WiBro and 802.16e. For a bit more information, read a general overview of WiBro that TheFeature ran late last year.
The South Korean government said that KT, SK Telecom, and Hanaro Telecom will get licenses to build WiBro networks: WiBro is a homegrown broadband wireless technology that is based on 802.16 but not compatible with WiMax. The WiBro networks won’t be available until the middle of 2006, right around the time that WiMax networks could pop up in the wild.
My gut reaction to WiBro is that it’s an unfortunate initiative that only splinters the market while the whole point of WiMax was to unify a splintered broadband wireless market. It also smacked of an attempt by a government to legislate a local standard thus requiring local operators to only buy from local vendors. While that could be true, it’s hard to ignore the fact that WiBro is portable while a portable or mobile version of WiMax is a few years out yet.