Pipex Picks Nokia Siemens for WiMax Pilot

Nokia Networks has announced its first European mobile WiMax engagement, a planned broadband wireless pilot with alternative U.K. operator Pipex Communications plc , the broadband ISP that is currently up for sale. (See Pipex Uses NSN for WiMax.)

Nokia has already been named as one of three infrastructure suppliers for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s WiMax rollout in the U.S., but this is its breakthrough in Europe. (See VZW Invests in Indiana.)

But the two deployments are at the opposite ends of the scale. While Sprint is spending billions of dollars on its rollout, the U.K. player's involvement to date is very minor.

In April 2006, Pipex created a joint venture, Pipex Wireless, with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), to trial WiMax services in British metro areas.The duo has undertaken one rollout in the town of Milton Keynes and plans another in Warwick. The JV is funded to the tune of $25 million by Intel Capital , while Pipex has transferred its spectrum license to the venture. (See Intel, Pipex Form JV and Pipex Trials WiMax.)

Equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks will be used for Pipex Wireless's third U.K. pilot at a location yet to be decided, says Graham Currier, the joint venture's business development director.

Currier says the idea of these pilots is to test WiMax services end-to-end, from an IP core to customer premises. The first two trials are using software-upgradeable base stations from Airspan Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: AIRN), and now Pipex Wireless wants to use another vendor for its third outing.

"We decided on a dual vendor strategy because we don't want to get tied to one vendor's developments," says Currier. He says Pipex looked at "all the WiMax vendors on the planet," and won't be sourcing from any more suppliers "unless one of our two vendors can't deliver."

The pilots are very small, each involving three or four base stations and a variety of indoor and outdoor antennae at the trial customer's premises. In Milton Keynes, there should be 100 trial customers by the end of this month, rising to 500 later. That trial has provided "valuable technical and operational experience applicable to the wider UK roll-out," according to a Pipex stock market submission, and has involved access speeds of between 2 Mbit/s and 8 Mbit/s.

The Warwick trial is due to start in May, with the local council as the initial pilot customer. WiMax access will be used as a fixed-line replacement, to provide a public wireless hotspot, and to hook up council workers at home, according to a Pipex update statement issued today.

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