Nextel Gets Flashier With Flarion

Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) has bitten harder on the Flash-OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) bullet and is to deploy more technology from alternative infrastructure startup Flarion Technologies, following initial trials last year (see Nextel Trials Flarion's Flash).

The move is significant for Flarion and the credibility of its gear, as Nextel is to put the vendor's technology through its paces under real-life commercial conditions.

In a Lehman Brothers conference call this week, Nextel president and CEO Tim Donahue revealed the carrier is in the process of building and testing “about 150 sites in a relatively large city down south.”

Donahue was unable to confirm the exact location of the project, stating that the priority at this stage is to test market demand for the services the technology can deliver, and examine whether Flarion’s kit is up to the task at hand.

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 Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), and cheaper to implement.

“It will run anywhere between 1 Mbit/s and 2 Mbit/s -- it’s fast as hell. It is a very impressive technology in the lab,” stressed Donahue. “We are going to spend some dough. We are going to build this thing and put it through its paces.

"The intent here is to have a network on the air that gives you the types of speed that broadband delivers, and to try and figure out what is the demand. Once we better understand that, it will help us decide the rollout schedules that we need to put in place in order to be first to market with a really disruptive broadband technology.”

Flarion is sticking to a firm “no comment” on the Nextel situation, with senior director of marketing and strategy Ronny Haraldsvik towing the corporate line, though no doubt moistening his chair with excitement. “Flarion will announce commercial customer agreements when the operators are ready to do so,” he tells Unstrung. “In the meantime, we continue our focus on commercializing mobile broadband in different spectrum bands and evolving the ecosystem of partners to support wider deployments. For Flarion, 2004 is all about scaling to positive customer demands,” he adds in full-flow marketspeak.

Flarion’s Nextel deal follows a recent cash injection by the T-Mobile Venture Fund and adds to previous trial success in the Asian market (see Flarion Hushes on Slush Fund). In February Korea Telecom announced plans to trial Flarion's OFDM technology for IP-based wireless broadband services, complementing earlier deals with SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) and Hanaro Telecom Inc. (see KT Joins the Flash-OFDM Band, Flarion Doubles Down in Korea and Flarion Cookin' Up Seoul Food).

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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