Optical/IP Networks

Nextel Flashes With Flarion

So, you thought a certain Miss Jackson was going to make the biggest splash of the week with her accidental flash at the Superbowl?

Well, doughty old carrier Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) proved that it knows a little something about flash this week as well, with the stealthy way it slipped out details of its commercial Flash-OFDM trial with Flarion Technologies going live.

The U.S. carrier quietly launched a Website providing information on the trial in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina but isn't revealing much more than what's on the site [ed. note: the little minxes!]. In December last year Nextel’s CEO Tim Donahue said the trial would involve “about 150” base station sites but Nextel couldn't find anyone to tell us any more before press time (see Nextel Gets Flashier With Flarion).

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.

The Nextel site claims the network will be capable of “realizing typical downlink speeds up to 1.5 Mbit/s, with occasional speeds, or bursts, as high as 3 Mbit/s, and typical uplink speeds up to 375 kbit/s, with occasional speeds, or bursts, as high as 750 kbit/s.”

According to the Website, the carrier is looking for a “limited” number of “friendly users” who will participate in the trial at no cost in exchange for providing feedback, or bursts, on the service. Non-Nextel subscribers are eligible to apply for access. The trial is scheduled to last “up to 6 months,” when users will be offered the opportunity to sign up on a monthly subscription basis.

Nextel's partner Flarion is still unable to publicly confirm the deal, despite Nextel waxing lyrical about its Flash-OFDM technology on the Website. “Officially, Flarion can’t make any comment,” says senior director of marketing and strategy, Ronny Haraldsvik. However, Viking Ronny is keen to point out that “Flash-OFDM is a proprietary technology to Flarion,” just to dispel any last doubts over the choice of vendor.

Analysts believe Nextel’s decision to trial Flarion’s technology is a direct response to Verizon Wireless’s aggressive intentions to deploy CDMA 2000 1x EV-DO technology beyond its trial geographic markets (see Verizon Repeats on 3G).

“In our view, the Verizon Wireless 1xEV-DO announcement forces the hand of the other operators,” note analysts in a Deutsche Bank AG report. “For this reason, we believe that Nextel will get more aggressive on Flash-OFDM than it had originally planned and that the other operators reconsider their options... we expect the company to move forward in additional markets later this year.”

ABI Research meanwhile is working up a lather over the potential of the technology. In a statement today the research firm modestly hails the project as “the dawn of a new wireless era,” [ed. note: steady on, chaps] claiming that rival 3G technologies “could represent about 20 percent of overall spending before the end of the decade.”

Such statements are in line with the results of a recent Unstrung poll, citing alternative 3G kit as the technology most likely to give the industry’s venture capitalists a winner in 2004 (see BWA Takes the Honors).

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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