Optical/IP Networks

Seven Takes Mobile WiMax Down Under

Vividwireless, a new wholly owned subsidiary of Seven Network Ltd. , one of Australia's leading media companies, has committed 50 million Australian dollars (US$41.56 million) to the country's's first mobile WiMax rollout, and has chosen Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. as its technology partner. (See Mobile WiMax Net to Launch in Oz.)

Vividwireless is targeting March 2010 for the commercial launch of the service in the western city of Perth. The service is being marketed as 4G by the company, even though it'll be based on an 802.16e Mobile WiMax solution, not the 802.16m variant of WiMax that has been submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as an IMT-advanced technology.

The company will be led by Martin Mercer, the former executive director for marketing of Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS)'s consumer business. Vividwireless will be going head-to-head with Mercer's former employer in Perth.

According to Vividwireless, it intends to differentiate its offering from the 3G services of Telstra, Hutchison Telecoms (Australia) Ltd. and SingTel Optus Pty. Ltd. on speed and quality of service (QoS) capabilities.

In a statement, Mercer says: "We know that broadband customers have an insatiable appetite for speed and a growing need to access the Internet wherever and whenever they want. Our network will satisfy this need for speed, delivering customer speeds up to 10 times faster than currently delivered by 3G networks at prices that are equivalent to fixed line services."

That would pitch broadband packages from Vividwireless at significantly lower prices than competitors' mobile broadband services.

Vividwireless quotes average speeds of 4 Mbit/s for laptop users and a peak rate of 20 Mbit/s. That's faster than the theoretical peak downlink rates offered by Optus (7.6 Mbit/s) and 3 Australia (3.6 Mbit/s), and about on a par with Telstra, which has upgraded its HSPA network to HSPA Evolved (also known as HSPA+). This delivers 21 Mbit/s downlink theoretical peak rates. Telstra intends to upgrade again to 42 Mbit/s by the end of the year.

However, Vividwireless may have an advantage with more mobile WiMax devices available at launch than those supporting HSPA+. According to the GSM Association (GSMA) , only Sierra Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: SWIR; Toronto: SW)'s USB modem supports Telstra HSPA+ network's current speed, and there aren't as yet any consumer devices for 42 Mbit/s, although there is little doubt Telstra will ensure at least one consumer device is available for its next upgrade. (See Telstra Pushes HSPA Limits).

Vividwireless also has what it describes as a "medium term goal" to operate simultaneous WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, taking advantage of its access to the largest contiguous block of relevant spectrum. This comes courtesy of Unwired Australia Pty. Ltd. , which Seven acquired at the end of 2007, providing fresh impetus and capital to the network operator and providing another distribution platform for the media group.

Unwired is building and will operate Vividwireless's network in Perth using radio infrastructure from Huawei. Unwired also operates fixed wireless WiMax networks in Sydney and Melbourne and holds 2.3 GHz and 3.5 GHz licenses that cover 65 percent of the total Australian population, mainly in the major metropolitan centers.

It acquired its 2.3 GHz spectrum as part of a swap deal completed with fellow WiMax operator Austar in 2005. The Perth network will be the first mobile WiMax network operated by either company.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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