Orange Checks Out IPWireless

Alternative UMTS equipment provider IPWireless Inc. is under evaluation by the U.K.'s leading mobile operator, Orange UK (London: OGE), which is currently formulating its next-generation mobile systems plans. And Orange has asked for a second opinion on the IPWireless kit from an interesting source: Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

"We have had people looking at this whole area [of high-speed data access systems] for quite some time," muses Graham Baxter [ed.note: no relation to Raymond Baxter, of 'Tomorrow's World' fame], head of network design and system infrastructure with Orange UK. Although Baxter has not been personally involved in any evaluation processes -- he has been busy with the deployment of next-gen service node platforms (see WaterCove Picks Low Fruit and Orange Juices Watercove) -- he confirms that IPWireless's products are under consideration by Orange's network planners.

These evaluation processes come at a crucial time for Orange in terms of making capital expenditure decisions. Its parent company, France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), has some serious financial problems and recently cut back Orange's capex budget by billions of dollars over the coming three years (see FT Launches €5.5B Bond Issue and Orange Shackled by FT). At the same time, Orange has plans to increase revenues from wireless data services, a knotty task given its financial woes.

Privately held startups such as IPWireless, currently in second spot in Unstrung's Top 25 Startups, are battling with infrastructure heavy hitters such as LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) for a slice of the operators' capex pie. A main aim of the alternative infrastructure providers -- a group that also includes other Unstrung top 25ers Flarion Technologies and ArrayComm Inc. -- is to get a Tier 1 carrier as a named customer.

"It cannot be underestimated how important it is to these alternative infrastructure players to get a major operator as a customer. It would validate the business model," says Andy Fuertes [ed.note: no relation to Daisy Fuentes, sadly], senior analyst at Visant Strategies Inc. (currently developing its Website). He adds that "there is a surprising amount of interest among the service providers to break away from the stale model" of deploying the equipment on offer from the traditional equipment suppliers, and that IPWireless has had some success so far with smaller operators (see IPWireless Walks New Zealand and Showtime for IPWireless ).

These alternative vendors differentiate themselves from the providers of standard 3G systems -- the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) -- by offering infrastructure that operates over time-division duplex (TDD) or "unpaired" spectrum, rather than frequency-division duplex (FDD) or "paired" spectrum. While FDD systems use two separate channels for sending traffic to and from the customer device, TDD systems use a single channel, making it more spectrally efficient and well suited for data services.

In addition, the alternative gang claim their infrastructure is much cheaper to deploy, and that entire network deployments can cost as little as one sixth of an equivalent FDD infrastructure rollout.

Although Orange has not made public its interest and involvement with IPWireless, it has gone to the trouble of getting Cisco Systems to put an IPWireless base station through its paces to find out whether the startup's kit can provide the kind of connectivity it claims and also whether it hooks up easily, and interoperates with, Cisco equipment.

"We were talking to Orange at the same time as IPWireless, and Orange wanted to know whether the equipment worked with ours and what it could do," says Jon Hindle, strategic technology manager of mobile networking at Cisco in the U.K. "We have been getting video streams at speeds up to 384 kbit/s. It is interesting equipment and is a good way of offering connectivity."

Its worth noting that there are some former Cisco-ites lurking in the 100-strong list of IPWireless employees, including one called Theo Wegbrans [ed.note: bwaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!], the startup's senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing.

IPWireless declined to offer a meaningful comment on the Orange tests.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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