BT Wants WiMax
We first reported in October of last year that the operator was considering a WiMax bid. BT is said to be interested in combining cellular, WiFi, and WiMax as part of its service offerings. (See BT to Go WiMax? and BT Confirms WiMax Ambitions.) U.K. regulator Ofcom will auction 215 MHz of spectrum in the 2.6GHz range, which is commonly referred to in Europe as the 3G expansion band, at the end of this year or early next year. Ofcom has not finalized the auction and spectrum specifics, but it proposes that of the 215 MHz of spectrum, between 50 MHz and 190 MHz will be suitable for WiMax. (See Spectrum up for Grabs in Europe.)
When asked at a recent press briefing about BT's potential involvement in bidding for upcoming 3G expansion spectrum, BT Wholesale chief technology officer Matt Beal said the U.K. carrier "can't afford to think like an incumbent any more. Spectrum is risky... I don't feel I need to have the spectrum to play in WiMax.
"If the auction gets too aggressive we don't have to play -- we have learned from our past experience. If the price is right, then that's fine. If the price is too high then the MVNO opportunity is the other option," Beal said.
One source tells Unstrung that BT will also pursue WiMax licenses as spectrum becomes available in other European markets. The next countries to auction the 2.6GHz band will be Germany in early 2008, Sweden in the spring of 2008, and Norway in October this year.
Among the usual suspects that BT approached for this RFI are likely to be Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nokia Networks , and Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR).
Alvarion says it responded to BT's RFI in a joint response with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and has been in "intense discussions" with the British operator over the last few months. In the response to the RFI, Cisco provides the routers and access service network gateways that connect to WiMax radio access network in Alvarion's Open WiMax architecture.
"It's strategic for BT to be a WiMax operator," says Rudy Leser, corporate vice president of strategy and marketing at Alvarion. "For them, WiMax is part of 21CN. It's not a small project."
BT already uses Alvarion fixed broadband wireless access networks where DSL or fiber network coverage is lacking to connect a few thousand business customers. Leser says BT has been looking at the potential of WiMax technology since as early as 2004.
"The RFI, for me, is a milestone," says Leser. "In Europe, BT will be one of the first adopters of mobile WiMax on a big scale."
Nokia Siemens Networks is tight-lipped about specifics regarding BT's RFI. Markku Hollström, head of broadband wireless product management, radio access, at Nokia Siemens Networks, would not confirm his company's involvement, but admitted that there are other RFIs in the U.K. and that the upcoming spectrum auction is creating a lot of interest in WiMax. (See Euro WiMax RFPs Heat Up.)
"There are multiple players trying to understand the technology and the business model... and the roadmap for the technology," says Hollström.
Motorola also would not disclose any details about BT's RFI, or even whether it is participating, but it is already a wireless supplier to the British operator. Motorola operates BT Openzone 's network of WiFi hotspots. And it is building the mesh WiFi networks in six of BT's wireless cities initiative, including Birmingham and Newcastle. (See Moto Wins BT Mesh Deal and BT Boasts Wireless Cities.)
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung