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Horizon Wi-Com may be the first out of the gate due to more modest ambitions than Clearwire, Sprint Nextel: The firm has a 2.3 GHz spectrum portfolio that they told InformationWeek has allowed them to set up networks with Navini equipment in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Richmond, and Cincinnati. Philadelphia is the only one of those cities with a citywide Wi-Fi rollout underway. Cincinnati has a smaller community-driven effort in place.
The company claims they’ll cover 70m people (POPs being defined incorrectly in the article). Pricing hasn’t been announced; a commercial rollout is three months away. They plan to clean Wi-Fi’s clock. Interestingly, the 2.3 GHz licenses were purchased from Verizon, InformationWeek reports.
The cities in question could likely see service also from Clearwire and Sprint Nextel in the 2.5 GHz band. Both firms claim to have licenses covering over 200m people, which likely includes these cities. So residents of some towns could see Wi-Fi, three competing mobile WiMax offerings, and three or four competing 3G cell networks (depending on when T-Mobile launches service).
Clearwire launched its Seattle mobile WiMax-like service with a laser light show on the Space Needle: Tricia Duryee of The Seattle Times reminds us all that in May 2005, the national ISP based in Seattle, Speakeasy Networks, launched its fixed WiMax (pre-WiMax, really) with a climbing expedition on the exterior of the famous structure by company head Bruce Chatterly.
A year later, and the pre-WiMax is post-WiMax. Duryee reports that while the Speakeasy launch was hailed as an early win for fixed WiMax, and was apparently one of the largest of its kind in the US—other similar technology wasn’t quite as related to WiMax or used a somewhat different approach—it’s no longer in service. Speakeasy was pushing its service as an alternative to wireline T-1, with more flexibility, such as up to a total of 8 Mbps to play with, which could be configured as 6 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up; 3 Mbps service offerings that would be cheaper and simpler than two T-1s; and very short-term installations, like within a day or two of initiation. Sounds like it didn’t gain traction as an offering as DSL and cable firms starting rolling out 5 and 6 Mbps services, and even much faster ones that were not readily available with business-grade service agreements when Speakeasy was planning their offering.
Intel had put money into Speakeasy to promote its WiMax line, but fixed WiMax has dimmed for Intel while mobile WiMax has had its profile raised. Mobile WiMax is just an element of 802.16-2005, and the WiMax Forum will have fixed, nomadic, and mobile profiles. While fixed WiMax (usually meaning 802.16-2004) has dropped in price and is now apparently widely deployed, a lot of future fixed deployments are anticipated to be using the so-called mobile WiMax base stations.
(Clearwire’s rollout uses older NextNet technology that has similarities to mobile WiMax; the company has stated when it will move to mobile WiMax, but it’s an inevitable transition, likely when Motorola, which bought NextNet, Intel, and Samsung release a first real generation of US-focused mobile WiMax gear in fall 2007.)
At a trade show, major telecom operators said WiMax’s can’t compete in their world with DSL and cable: Costs will drop to the range they need to deploy, and they aren’t claiming that niche uses are unprofitable or pointless. This confirms what some WiMax vendors have been saying: that operators want the whole certification picture sorted out, volume production, and real-world trials of final silicon. And then they’ll sit on that for a while. The operators also cited limitations in licensed spectrum in the U.S. as a hindrance to deployment.
Clearwire has about 500 employees, up from around 100 a year ago: Seattle and surrounding suburbs and cities are on the short list to get service next. A reporter at the Puget Sound Business Journal checked out a bunch of online job sites and found ads for Clearwire jobs, deducing the locations of the jobs are likely the locations of the next service launches. [link via Steve Stroh at Broadband Wireless Internet Access/WiMax]
Irish Broadband said it is buying more equipment from Navini to expand its network: Currently, Irish Broadband uses a mixture of equipment, at least in Dublin. While I haven’t used the service based on gear from Navini, I would think it makes the most sense in Dublin. My landlord won’t let me hang an antenna on my building and I have friends here with the same problem. But with the Navini offering, customers just put the modem in their house near a window. Unfortunately, Irish Broadband doesn’t offer the Navini service where I live, but if it does start covering my neighborhood, I’d definitely switch from DSL, which is pretty spotty and requires me to pay more to the incumbent here.
This is a bit thin on details but it looks like Unwired swapped some spectrum with Austar: The result is that Unwired will concentrate on offering broadband wireless to the big cities in Australia and Austar will now serve more rural regions. Austar is planning to use WiMax to offer broadband wireless services.
An operator in the Midwest U.S. is expanding its wireless network: Stonebridge uses Alvarion gear in the 900 MHz, 2.4 MHz, and 5 GHz frequencies to serve customers covering 1,000 square miles in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. This operator sounds like a bit of a poster child for wireless, using wireless to backhaul the network as well as for last mile access. Stonebridge is using Alvarion’s BreezeAccess gear, not the BreezeMax gear, which is the line most often sold by Alvarion to operators interested in migrating to WiMax.
Unwired in Australia is talking about how it will migrate to standards-based WiMax: These stories are a bit inaccurate and in some regard aren’t actually reporting on any news. The company currently has deployed a network using Navini’s proprietary technology. While these stories are presented as if it’s news that Unwired has decided to migrate to WiMax, this really is nothing new. Unwired has been talking about WiMax for a while. However, Unwired is now saying it will begin deploying equipment from Navini that can simultaneously support users of Navini’s proprietary technology and the future mobile 802.16e technology. But Unwired is saying that it will be able to move to 802.16e early next year. That will be difficult, seeing as the 802.16e standard isn’t even finalized so it will be some time before 802.16e gear becomes available. However, some vendors are releasing products that they believe will be software upgradeable to 802.16e, once the standard is set. So I’m guessing that Unwired will use gear from Navini that can support both Navini’s proprietary technology and will be able to eventually also support 802.16e.
Unwired has been incredibly successful in Australia. The operator acquired 5,800 new subscribers in March and April this year.
TowerStream has installed a base station on Nob Hill in San Francisco: The company says they can reach a 10-mile radius with their gear, and offer connections from T-1 up to 100 Mbps speeds. This is their eighth market; their goal is to hit the top 10 in the U.S.
Dramatically, Speakeasy Networks had its formal press announcement for its dense downtown Seattle pre-WiMax network on the observation level: I was there this morning when executives from Speakeasy, Intel, and Alvarion described the components of the new five-building-top pre-WiMax network that blankets downtown Seattle. The network is live today with early customers and will go into a fully available service with 48 hours from order to live network June 15, according to today’s announcement. (View photo gallery on Flickr.)
Speakeasy has been testing this network for months, and securing building rights. They wanted to be the exclusive 5.8 GHz tenant for the buildings they chose to avoid competition for these choice locations. They’re on top of five buildings, which include the Space Needle and the Westin Building, where all of the major telecommunications links for the Pacific Northwest converge.
Unlike TowerStream, which eschews terrestrial wire as much as they can, Speakeasy didn’t build a wireless ring in the air. They’re using their own private fiber-optic connections leased from AboveNet to serve their pre-WiMax feeds. In a shot at TowerStream, the company is describing their network as the largest densest network of its kind.
The company expects to hit a very large zone of downtown Seattle with a single package of an aggregated 6 Mbps of bandwidth for $800 per month. That can be split into 3 Mbps upstream and 3 Mbps downstream, 4 up and 2 down, or 4 down and 2 up. An unlimited bandwidth T-1 line in Seattle (1.5 Mbps in each direction for an aggregate of 3 Mbps) is about $500 to $550 per month. Two T-1s cost double that for equipment, setup, and monthly fees, and involve some networking tricks to turn them into a single fabric.
A T-1 requires about three weeks to install; Speakeasy is promising 48 hours when they launch the service for all-comers June 15. For the next month, they will be selectively signing up interested businesses. The company said that they are trying to bust WiMax myths, and are promising their 6 Mbps aggregate service only within 1 1/2 to 2 miles of a transmitter in a zone they’ve defined very densely.
Speakeasy’s CEO Bruce Chatterley said that Speakeasy is going after “the traditional customer base for the telephone monopolies.” Voice isn’t part of the mix yet because, as Chatterley said later in an interview, pre-WiMax gear isn’t robust enough to support VoIP with business-level quality. When partners Alvarion and Intel, which has also invested in Speakeasy, make available production WiMax gear, Speakeasy will start testing voice applications, said Umesh Amin, Speakeasy vice president in charge of their WiMax Initiative.
Chatterley said that the company has no worries about using the relatively empty 5.8 GHz unlicensed band, although he and Amin noted that licensed spectrum is of great interest whenever it comes available. Both explained their desire for the 2.5 GHz band mostly controlled by Sprint and Nextel, which they hope and expect will be opened up at an unknown point in the future.
Chatterley said in general remarks that the company was on track for $70 million in revenue this year and $100 million next year with 13,000 business customers purchasing DSL and other high-speed services nationwide, or about 15 percent of their customer base. Chatterley noted later that 100 percent of their new DSL customers are being installed on naked DSL, which is a phone line with no phone company services loaded on it.
I asked Chatterley if WiMax customers would be allowed to resell access as Speakeasy has allowed and encouraged with their T-1 and DSL offerings. He said, “We don’t care what you do with your broadband,” and won’t think of WiMax as a different offering from any of their other broadband services.
Dishnet Wireless plans to spend US$57 million to rollout national Wi-Fi hotspot network in India via WiMax: The firm wants to jumpstart service ahead of rivals which are committed to wireline operations. Dishnet will use WiMax (or pre-WiMax, more likely until certification) to handle backhaul among a potential 6,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. By next March, they will link up 38 cities, starting with Bangalore. The owner of Dishnet Wireless sold a wireline DSL business (Dishnet DSL) to a former government-owned Internet provider. He also has an interest in the Barista coffee chain which will offer Dishnet Wireless service.
Om Malik has more detail from another article on the subject, too: eight cities will have service with 60 days, and it will cost about US$7 per month for basic service. Speeds will range from 128 Kbps to 1 Mbps. The Hindu newspaper notes that a test installation with five WiMax (misnomer) nodes served 150 people during a trial period. Om also points out that Alcatel will be developing WiMax in an Indian facility that one article estimates will employ 1,000 people.
Proxim is offering a WISP starter kit: The package includes a Proxim base station with antenna plus six subscriber units. The platform can be migrated to WiMax.
The DailyWireless bit on the offering includes a great profile of a WISP in Michigan that currently uses the Proxim gear. The operator serves the public schools and offers half-price dial-up to families with school kids, and then donates 10 percent of the revenue to the schools.
DailyWireless also refers to an interesting statistic that shows the number of WISPs based in the U.S. has grown from 300 in 1998 to almost 8,500 in 2004. While I’m sure some of these WISPs compete head-to-head with the incumbent wireline telcos, I would wager that the majority of them serve communities that have no other broadband option. I suggest that the increase in number of WISPs indicates how poorly the telcos are serving communities outside of the big cities.
Broadband Wireless Business ran a long piece looking at Barrett Xplore’s aspirations in Canada: The company is solely using Motorola’s Canopy line to serve customers across the country. One key to the Canopy line, which is pointed out in this article, is that future Canopy APs will be based on WiMax but they’ll still work with the customer equipment that is being sold today. That’s likely an important capability for operators that are looking to deploy now.
NextWeb is most often the wireless ISP I point to when looking for an example of a WISP that has been successful, even in the harshest of markets: NextWeb is profitable, serves 2,000 customers, and offers services in 175 cities in California, including San Francisco with its notoriously noisy radio environment. The new offerings range from $159 for a service that bursts to 6 Mbps to dedicated connections ranging in speed from 512 Kbps to 9 Mbps. NextWeb also touts its ability to turn on new customers in three to seven days, which is usually far faster than broadband connections are provisioned from the telcos.
TowerStream uses broadband wireless to serve customers in five U.S. cities and says it has found a successful business model: TowerStream has 1,000 customers. An interesting component of TowerStream’s plan is that it operates totally independently of the telcos because it has its own wireless backbone. That makes its cost structure lower than other competitive operators.
TowerStream is also looking into ways that it can become a carrier’s carrier. This is a great way for it to leverage its existing network. The company plans to expand into another five markets by 2006.
TowerStream likely faces some challenges that it doesn’t go into much detail about here. For example, it places antennas on rooftops of tall buildings in these cities to create its backhaul network. Roof rights access became a huge issue when the LMDS operators were building their networks. Building owners started charging exorbitant rental rates and some operators were able to forge exclusive roof access deals, meaning the other operators lost out on valuable roof space. It’s possible that times may have changed, but I would suspect that the roof rights issue presents some challenges.
Jeff Thompson of TowerStream sheds a bit more light on the company’s voice over IP aspirations. TowerStream recently introduced a mobile voice over Wi-Fi offering in New York City. I was a bit critical of it because it sounded to me that TowerStream was planning on building tons of hotspots in public places and then attempting to link them together for a mobile service. But here, Thompson says the company is investigating solutions from Tropos, which has a mesh Wi-Fi offering designed to cover whole cities, and Cisco. Mesh solutions make covering large areas more practical.
But I still think Thompson underestimates the importance of ubiquitous or at least widespread coverage. He says that if you cover one square mile in Manhattan, you’ve got a million people. If we’re talking about a mobile offering, I disagree. If an operator is touting a service as mobile, customers will want widespread coverage or the service will be useless.
Bloomberg ran a massive (more than 4,600 words) story detailing the ups and downs of Craig McCaw’s career: This story is really an admirable feat, quoting a waitress for whom McCaw once left a huge tip, a high school classmate, and a 76-year-old man who McCaw first worked for when he was 16 years old. While much of this tale is well known, this story is notable in that it doesn’t omit McCaw’s failures. While the man has some incredible success stories, he’s not entirely perfect either.
All eyes these days of course are on McCaw’s Clearwire venture. The company now has a pretty stripped-down Web site for its future Ireland ventures. The site says that Clearwire Ireland is building networks to cover 14 towns in Ireland, including Dublin and Galway. The Bloomberg piece mentions Clearwire spectrum purchases that cover Copenhagen and I’ve recently also read references to potential Clearwire spectrum buys in Bulgaria and Belgium.
Clearwire has launched service in five cities in the United States but at least one expert thinks that the company may be about to make a much more significant announcement. Caroline Gabriel, research director at Rethink Research Associates, says according to several sources she calls reliable, Sprint and Clearwire have been negotiating a spectrum sharing deal. Such an agreement might pool the spectrum owned by both companies, allowing Clearwire to focus on quickly building a network across the country while Sprint focuses on its mobile cellular network, Gabriel concludes in a recent research report. In addition, such pooling of spectrum and the resulting extensive network would be attractive to companies that might want to lease the network and market services under their own brands.
Gabriel sees additional potential repercussions from such a deal. The partnership could spur owners of 2.3 GHz spectrum, known as wireless communications services or WCS, to actually use the spectrum. BellSouth, Verizon, and SBC all have WCS holdings. WCS gets a bit more complicated because initial versions of WiMax won’t operate in the band but presumably if the demand is there the vendors will make it.
Unwired, the operator offering broadband wireless using Navini’s equipment in Sydney, scored 14,000 customers in under five months: The company claims that accounts for 17 percent of new broadband users in Sydney. Unwired plans to upgrade its network to comply with 802.16e, the mobile WiMax standard, when it becomes available.
These are quite successful numbers for a wireless network in a major city. I don’t know the extent of broadband availability in Sydney, but I would imagine that it’s pretty good.
Irish Broadband uses Navini to offer service to some customers in Dublin. But it doesn’t appear that Irish Broadband’s strategy is seamless coverage throughout the city. The offering is available in pockets. Unlike Unwired’s service in Sydney, I don’t believe that the service is offered as a portable service in Dublin.
Steve Stroh has some insightful theories on the future of Sprint and Nextel’s spectrum: He suggests that the companies will be quite busy with a number of different projects mostly related to their merger to actually deploy a broadband wireless network using their combined MMDS spectrum licenses. Stroh suggests that the recent noise Sprint has made regarding its plans to deploy WiMax once the mobile version is just that: noise. He suspects these announcements serve as a distraction that may cause competitors such as Verizon and Cingular to consider competing in the broadband wireless space.
Stroh also has an intriguing theory on what Sprint and Nextel may do with their valuable MMDS spectrum. He suspects they’ll lease it to Clearwire. That way Sprint/Nextel help Clearwire serve as serious competition to Sprint/Nextel rivals, namely SBC, BellSouth, and Verizon.
The idea certainly makes sense and is a possibility. Partly for irrational reasons, I lean toward hoping that Sprint/Nextel will deploy its own network using the spectrum. The irrational part is because I’d like to see another operator in the fray, coming up with its own ideas of how to build the network and how to market the service. It would be fun to watch.
But there are some legitimately good reasons for Sprint/Nextel to deploy a network using the spectrum too, for all the obvious reasons that any operator would be interested in deploying a broadband wireless network. Sprint/Nextel is in a unique position because of all the spectrum the new company controls. That means they could have an edge over competitors if they use the spectrum, either to target underserved communities or down the road to offer high bandwidth services to mobile customers.
It’s possible that in a roundabout way Stroh and I are on the same page about Hybrid’s equipment. The feedback I got back when I was covering Sprint’s deployment of the equipment (and I have to add that I haven’t circled back and talked to Sprint or its customers for a very long time and Stroh has) was that Hybrid lacked some capabilities that would be useful in a carrier grade network. For example, it was my understanding that Sprint couldn’t meter bandwidth on the network. That would mean that loading the network would be very tricky business. It’s a gamble to just perfectly oversubscribe the network such that at any given moment too many customers don’t log on and use up all the bandwidth.
We’ve covered Sprint’s WiMax intentions here before but some more solid details have surfaced: Sprint appears to have solid plans to build WiMax networks, once the mobile version is available. The company plans to test WiMax this year but won’t do anything commercial until the mobile equipment is available. Sprint also said it would use WiMax to backhaul existing cellular base stations.
I’m a bit surprised that Sprint would make known such aggressive plans only because the mobile version of WiMax is quite a ways into the future. The company will have a long wait before the gear is available to it.
My initial reaction to these plans was to wonder why Sprint wouldn’t decide to use an existing technology, especially given Nextel’s use of Flarion, even if the existing offerings are proprietary. But it’s probably important to keep in mind that Sprint has been burned before trying to use its MMDS licenses. It was an early mover in building out networks several years ago after it bought a slew of MMDS licenses but the equipment it used, from a company called Hybrid, just wasn’t quite there yet so Sprint shelved the effort. Perhaps that experience means Sprint now wants to wait for a technology that is built on a standard, which presumably goes through a rigorous testing and development procedure before hitting the market.