Lucent Faces UMTS Crunch

CANNES, France -- 3GSM Congress -- Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) is approaching make-or-break point in its attempt to convince mobile operators that it has a credible UMTS story (see Lucent Harbors UMTS Hope).

A pilot trial of the vendor's WCDMA products -- and its enterprise-focused business case -- by No. 1 Spanish mobile operator Telefónica Móviles SA is to be extended from Lucent and Moviles folk to include up to 200 hombres from Spanish companies during March and April.

"This pilot has had three stages," John Leonard, mobile business strategy and planning director at Lucent, tells Unstrung in overcast Cannes. "The first was to prove to Moviles that we had a business model that could work for them, and agree on the scope of the pilot. Then we had to deploy the core and edge infrastructure to create as real a network environment as possible, and have our staff and Moviles people testing the system to access their relevant corporate intranet."

Now, says Leonard, systems integrator Accenture is to help about 200 users from four or five Spanish enterprises join the pilot program and use the Lucent-supplied PCMCIA cards in their laptops to test the network and its capabilities in real business situations.

It is the results of this third stage of the trial that will determine whether Lucent has a credible proposition for UMTS license-holders. If the enterprise users encounter problems securely accessing their intranets, that will discourage Moviles from taking things any further. Likewise, if the pilot is technically successful but offers little or nothing in the way of benefits to those users, then Lucent's business case -- that enterprise users can deliver sufficient revenue to make a WCDMA deployment worthwhile -- will be discredited.

In the meantime, Lucent has a similar operation in the early stage of development with Germany's leading operator T-Mobile AG (see Lucent Rallies in Nuremberg).

Leonard, naturally, puts a brave face on Lucent's UMTS prospects, saying that the company's experience in spread spectrum technology development and management makes it well suited to help carriers into the 3G world, whether with a WCDMA or CDMA2000 evolution strategy.

However, Leonard does admit that Lucent faces a large obstacle to adoption by UMTS license holders. "We have a very small GSM footprint, and this industry is all about [carrier/vendor] relationships."

A point backed by IDC wireless and mobile network infrastructure research manager Shiv Bakhshi. The natural thing for operators to do is pick up the phone and talk to their existing network equipment suppliers, he says. For many GSM operators holding a UMTS license, that means the calls will be made to the likes of LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), among others.

But for Lucent, the phone isn't yet ringing off the hook.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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