Flarion Wins Voodoo Trial

Flarion Technologies has added another carrier name to its growing list of trial wins, securing a small but high-profile deal with Vodafone Group plc's (NYSE: VOD) Japanese subsidiary (see Voodoo Flashes in Japan).

The “alternative” wireless broadband startup is to provide Vodafone KK -- Japan’s third largest wireless carrier -- with its Flash-OFDM PC card modems and RadioRouter base stations for use within its 3G UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) network (see Flarion Unveils Chipsets).

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 UMTS -- and cheaper to implement.

According to Vodafone spokesman Matthew Nicholson, the trial is “expected to start in the summer and last until the end of 2004.”

Nicholson is unable to divulge details of potential customer numbers, stating that the trial “will take place in one area of metropolitan Tokyo.”

Flarion’s EMEA marketing director, Joe Barrett, is a little more effusive. Barrett claims the carrier will be trialing the technology over “seven or eight [base station] sites.”

“It is a friendly trial, targeting non-paying customers,” he adds. “I can’t comment on the actual financial aspects for Flarion, but we don’t do free trials.”

Despite Flarion’s success, Vodafone is keen to stress that the New Jersey vendor is not its sole supplier of “alternative” network equipment.

“Vodafone Group trials a lot of different technologies,” says Nicholson. “We can’t go into detail on what will take place after the trial. Whether or not we actually adopt the technology is another question.”

The deal adds to Flarion’s trial announcements with U.S. carrier Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL), as well as Korea’s Hanaro Telecom Inc., SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), and KT (see Nextel Steps Up Data Race, KT Joins the Flash-OFDM Band, Flarion Doubles Down in Korea, and Flarion Cookin' Up Seoul Food).

Aside from its publicly announced trials, Australian media reports also cite a deployment with national incumbent Telstra Corp. Meanwhile, industry scuttlebutt suggests that last year’s cash injection from T-Mobile Venture Fund was a prelude to a likely trial with T-Mobile International AG (see Flarion Hushes on Slush Fund).

“I can’t confirm or deny either carrier,” comments Flarion’s VP of global marketing and communications, Ronny Haraldsvik.

Regardless of such speculation, analysts believe Flarion’s recent activity is indicative of a marked shift in carrier focus. “Sensibly, carriers aren’t writing any technology off,” says Gartner Inc.’s Jason Chapman. “The Flarion service seems to be very impressive. If you are a mobile carrier and there is a technology out there that seems to be rocking, then it makes sense to look at it.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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