Nextel Steps Up Data Race
Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) has ramped up its Flash-OFDM trial with startup Flarion Technologies, announcing a set of tariff plans that will provide a real market test for the vendor’s “alternative wireless broadband” technology (see Nextel Extends Flarion Trial).
OFDM is a modulation scheme that can support an average data rate of around 1.5 Mbit/s for users in a standard, PCS-sized cell site, while using only 1.25 MHz of spectrum. This makes it approximately four or five times more spectrally efficient than comparable 3G technologies, such as CDMA2000 or Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) -- and cheaper to implement.
Two months ago the U.S. carrier revealed it was looking for a “limited” number of “friendly users” willing to participate in a free trial. The 130 base-station project was initially expected to last “up to six months” (see Nextel Flashes With Flarion and Nextel Launches Flash-OFDM).
Fast forward to April and Nextel has stepped up a notch, rolling out a series of tariffs for both consumer and business users. A potential subscriber base of 1.2 million in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina (approximately 1,300 square miles) has four monthly plans to choose from, ranging from $34.99 to $74.99.
The cheapest offering boasts typical downlink speeds of 750 kbit/s and uplink speeds of 200 kbit/s, while the all-singing, all-dancing “Platinum” service claims downlink speeds of 1.5 Mbit/s and an uplink of 375 kbit/s.
Nextel is keeping mum on its long-term plans for Flarion’s technology, but admits that the commercial trial will run until the end of 2004 at the earliest.
“We are planning on deploying the service until the end of the year, and then we will evaluate it and make decisions from there,” says a Nextel spokesperson. “We have seen several initial success indicators -- one of which is customer response to the free trial, as well as network speed and performance. I cannot give you exact customer numbers though.”
Naturally, Flarion’s VP of global communications and marketing, Ronny Haraldsvik, is excited at this latest development. “The key thing here is that they are confident enough to put commercial users on it and charge for it,” he comments. “Together with Verizon's rollout of EV-DO it really puts the broadband rollout race firmly on the track.” (See Verizon Repeats on 3G.)
— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung