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ArrayComm: Oz First, US Next?

ArrayComm Inc. has formed a $14.3 million consortium with Vodafone Australia, OZeMail, and others to roll out the first commercial implementation of its i-Burst high-speed wireless data system (see Aussies Prep Mobile Broadband).

The formation of the consortium hints at the approach ArrayComm will take to buying up the so-called "unpaired" spectrum (which the i-Burst system uses) when it goes under the hammer in the U.S. on September 18 this year.

Unpaired or time-division duplex (TDD) allows one communications channel to be used for both up- and down-stream traffic and is well suited for data packet delivery and Internet connectivity. Frequency-division duplex (FDD) transmission, the kind used by the major third-generation systems, uses two separate channels for sending traffic back and forth. This makes it somewhat of a spectrum glutton compared to TDD.

According to Nitin J. Shah, executive vice president and general manager of business development and strategy at ArrayComm, the rollout in Australia will stand the firm in good stead when it looks for partners to help it commercialize its technology in the U.S.

"It does give us an impetus in the States, as we can now point to some very credible partners in the industry," he says.

Unstrung asked whether ArrayComm was considering putting together a consortium, like the Australian one, to help it buy the American spectrum in the first place. "You can imagine a similar constellation in the U.S.," Shah allowed, but wouldn't say more.

ArrayComm has lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hard over the last four years or so to get this type of spectrum considered for new services (see Martin Cooper - The Spectrum Avenger).

Now, if it follows its Australian game plan, it will need cash to buy some of that spectrum. The question is, will it have enough? Hence, the potential need for high-powered partners, even before the auctions.

ArrayComm plans a "soft" rollout of its i-Burst system in Australia in November this year, with more base stations being added in 2003. It is promising data transfer speeds of 1 Mbit/s on a "fully loaded network."

ArrayComm's i-Burst high-speed wireless data system uses "adaptive array antenna" technology to create a "cell within a cell" for individual users in range of its base stations. Conventional cellular systems transmit signals in all directions to all the users in the range of a particular cell. In other words, along with the right signals hitting the user, the system is also pumping lots of noise or "electro-smog" into the radio frequency environment.

The ArrayComm system uses software and an array of antennas to continually map the RF environment, allowing it to create a "personal cell" link with each user. ArrayComm already sells this technology, which it calls "IntelliCell," for use in conventional cellular networks.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
http://www.unstrung.com
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