Euro WiMax RFPs Heat Up

The WiMax market appears to be heating up in Europe, with a number of RFPs being issued by WiMax license owners in Germany and France, Unstrung has learned. (See Pipex Picks Nokia Siemens for WiMax Pilot and Pipex Uses NSN for WiMax.)

At the Institution of Engineering and Technology's WiMax London conference today, Markku Hollstrom, head of broadband wireless product management, radio access at Nokia Siemens, said his company is talking with operators in Germany and France and that he expects German WiMax operators to choose their vendors by the end of this year. With a recent win at Pipex Communications plc in the U.K., Nokia Networks hopes to be one of the big WiMax players.

Germany auctioned the 3.5GHz broadband wireless access licenses in December last year, and there were five winners: Clearwire Europe, Deutsche Breitband Dienste, and Inquam Broadband Holdings Ltd. -- which is a joint venture between NextWave Broadband Inc., BFD Mobile Radio Partners, and Omnia Ltd. -- each have national coverage. Televersa Online and MGM Productions Group have regional licenses. (See Intel Invests in WiMax Operator.)

But other equipment suppliers say that the German operators may still be some way away from deciding on their technology vendors, particularly for mobile WiMax (802.16e) deployments.

"They are evaluating the market, and deciding whether to go with [802.16]d or [802.16]e," says Rudiger Meisenburg, sales director for Central and Eastern Europe at Aperto Networks Inc. "I hear that what they're testing in [802.16]e is prototype and far from being commercially ready."

Meisenburg said he was disappointed in the way that the German regulator structured the license auctions because it prevented smaller operators and municipalities from participating. "I don't know if any of the license holders will be able to get the number of subscribers they need to make the business case work," he says.

One analyst says that Europe will be a challenging market for mobile WiMax because of the strong competition among mobile operators. Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), for example, was interested in bidding for a 3.5GHz license, but changed its mind just weeks before the auction.

"Europe will be the hardest market to sell for mobile WiMax, because of the cellular competition," says Robert Westwick, a wireless technology consultant with PA Consulting Group .

Others say that it is still early days for mobile WiMax vendor selection. Proxim Wireless Corp. supplies an 802.16d network with several hundred nodes to MaxTelecom in Bulgaria and describes this deployment as a "still a large-scale trial."

"WiMax is always six steps ahead of what it actually is," says Anthony Fulgoni, Northern European Sales Manager at Proxim Wireless. "It will be at least the second half of next year before mobile WiMax [equipment] is shipped on the back of an RFP." Fulgoni says that in France, WiMax license holder Iliad (Euronext: ILD), which gained its license when it acquired Altitude Telecom in late 2005, is still "doing the beauty contest." (See Euro Altnets Step Up M&A.)

The next big WiMax markets to watch in Europe are the U.K. and Italy, because they will be next to auction spectrum. U.K. regulator Ofcom plans to auction 2.5GHz frequency licenses later this year, while Italian regulator Agcom will auction 3.5GHz spectrum this July. (See Spectrum Up for Grabs in Europe.)

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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