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NextGenTel Tries Out WiMax

All the hype over WiMax has made an impression on NextGenTel Holding ASA, so much so that Norway's second largest operator has decided to trial some services in the cities of Oslo and Bergen using kit from (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA). (See NextGenTel Trials WiMax.)

The carrier acquired a third of Norway's WiMax frequency during a spectrum auction in December 2004, but at that time didn't have any specific plans to use it. "We did that as an insurance for technical development," says Morten Ågnes, the operator's director of information and marketing.

But with the technology such a hot topic it decided to give it a go. The carrier, which has about 130,000 broadband customers, is particularly interested in WiMax's potential as a broadband access technology that can be used in areas where DSL access might be tricky.

"We think we could use WiMax as a supplementary technology in the access network, for transmission over fjords and mountains and so on, and places where DSL is not available, like rural areas," Ågnes says. "We also see some potential in more urban areas where communities and corporate customers have a high density of broadband use."

NextGenTel is conducting a private field trial "to learn a little bit more about the technology," Ågnes says. "We have set up two pilot installations just for technical purposes to test bandwidth and equipment."

At this stage that involves doing tests on rooftops and using laptops in cars to test the equipment's nomadic capabilities -- essentially a "let's see how this stuff works" exercise. "We think we’ll use the rest of this year" for the trial, says Ågnes. The operator then plans to follow up with a public trial. It's also looking at using WiMax-based gear in its network for backhaul.

The operator's using Alcatel equipment for the trial, but Ågnes suggests it finds the kit on the expensive side. He reckons the success of WiMax will be "heavily dependent on equipment and pricing... We see pricing as far from being interesting to us right now."

NextGenTel's is the first go at trialing WiMax in the Norwegian market -- neither incumbent nor cable operator UPC Broadband have announced any plans. "We don't see any of the major players doing anything at the moment," Ågnes says.

The marketing man notes there's "some unrealistic expectation" surrounding WiMax, but "we hope it'll be possible."

Alcatel is more confident that WiMax will be ready within the next year as a "complementary solution" to broadband, says a company spokeswoman. "We are already involved in commercial deployments in Austria with the operator WiMAX Telecom," she says. "For us it was our first commercial deployment." (See Alcatel Supplies WiMAX Telecom.)

As this article was published, the French vendor had not responded to questions about whether the technology NextGenTel is using is Alcatel's own, or that of OEM partner Alvarion Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR). (See Alvarion & Alcatel Get Fixed Up.) NextGenTel's trial wasn't the only WiMax deployment announced today: Alvarion's BreezeMax platform has been picked for 11 trials across Italy; and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) is touting its first commercial WiMax deployment in Africa. (See Alvarion Tests WiMax in Italy and ZTE Deploys in Angola .)

— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading

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