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Mini-base-station vendor wins T-Mobile USA contract in market's first high-profile deal

IP.access Builds Up T-Mobile

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
10/23/2003
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U.K. vendor ip.access Ltd. has struck the "mini-base-station" industry’s most prolific commercial contract deal to date -- signing up Tier 1 operator T-Mobile USA in a multiyear agreement (see T-Mobile Picks ip.access).

The company is to install an undisclosed number of its nanoBTS base stations throughout North American cities in an effort to boost T-Mobile’s cellular coverage inside buildings.

Dubbing its product the “world’s smallest GSM base station,” ip.access claims to overcome the challenges of providing enhanced indoor coverage by utilizing the building’s existing Ethernet infrastructure with an IP-based backhaul, removing the need for complex antenna buildout and frequency planning and management (see Ip.access Goes Indoors).

According to marketing manager Sandra Gilligan, rollout has already commenced in downtown Seattle. “They gave us the go-ahead about a month ago, and we have received a number of purchase orders for further deployments in the last few days.”

Gilligan points out that T-Mobile’s bullish rollout of wireless LAN hotspots, combined with the country’s generally poor indoor cellular coverage, was a potential catalyst for today’s deal (see T-Mobile Unifies Wireless Billing). “They may see it as an opportunity to boost cellular revenue while customers use their hotspots,” she notes. “Coverage in the U.S. isn’t necessarily brilliant, and they may have been losing out on a missed opportunity if people were having to use landlines to make calls.”

Analysts agree. “This is a great fit for something like Starbucks,” says Peter Jarich, senior analyst for wireless infrastructure at Current Analysis. “They already have backhaul for wireless LAN and can pop one of these in there for improved cell coverage. It's a neat concept, especially given the really small size of the product.”

Today’s deal marks the first major win for a vendor in this space. Competitor Littlefeet Inc. is yet to publicly announce any carrier customers, despite claims it has secured a commercial contract win in the lucrative Chinese market (see Littlefeet Kicks Into China). Current Analysis’s Ken Rehbehn also points to AirWalk Communications Inc. as having “a comparable product offer for CDMA -- but as yet no customers.”

“What is so interesting about ip.access is the use of Ethernet to drive down the costs of deploying the base stations in a facility,” he adds. “Unlike a repeater-based in-building solution, the operator gets additional capacity -- not just coverage expansion.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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