French JV Pushes on With WiMax

French WiMax operator Société Haut Débit (SHD), a joint venture between fixed line carrier Neuf Cegetel Group (Euronext: NEUF) and mobile operator SFR , is planning an extensive pilot network rollout of about 100 sites during the second half of this year. (See SHD Builds Out WiMax.)

SHD, in which SFR owns a majority 66 percent stake, plans to offer wireless broadband services in the 3.4–3.6GHz frequency band in areas with poor or no fixed broadband coverage. Under the terms of its two licenses, secured during a spectrum auction in July 2006, it must also offer wholesale access to other service providers.

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) is providing and installing the network infrastructure for the latest sites in two of France's wealthiest regions -- Ile-de-France (Paris and its suburbs) and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, which includes Nice, Cannes, and Marseille. SHD has already tested the technology in 10 sites near Paris, a small pilot that began in December 2006.

The vendor is providing equipment based on the 802.16e-2005 standard -- also known as "mobile WiMax" because it enables roaming between base stations -- and is testing and supplying residential WiMax gateways and PCMCIA cards from partner ZyXEL Communications Corp. that also comply with the same standard.

SHD plans to deploy WiMax gear at more than 440 sites between now and 2012, with almost three quarters of the sites planned for the Paris region.

SHD isn't the only WiMax hopeful in France -- competitive triple play operator Iliad (Euronext: ILD) owns the country's only national WiMax license following its acquisition in late 2005 of Altitude Telecom. (See Euro WiMax RFPs Heat Up and Euro Altnets Step Up M&A.)

Iliad is planning a pilot 802.16e-2005 network in an unspecified French urban area before the end of 2007, and has been evaluating infrastructure from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nokia Networks , and Samsung Corp. .

With the introduction of WiMax into the mix, France is on course to become the broadband king of Europe, as high-speed DSL services and mobile 3G services are already widely available from a variety of competing service providers, while a number of carriers are at the early stages of fiber-to-the-home rollouts. (See Neuf Makes Acquisitions Count, Iliad Updates on FTTH, 3G, and FT Fleshes Out FTTH .)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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