NextWave Buys Into More Euro WiMax

NextWave Wireless Inc. (Nasdaq: WAVE)'s majority-owned European investment subsidiary, Inquam Broadband GmbH , has agreed to acquire a 65 percent controlling stake in European regional WiMax operator WiMAX Telecom GmbH , for an undisclosed sum, continuing on a European broadband wireless spectrum spending spree. (See Nextwave Buys Euro Spectrum.)

The deal expands Inquam's broadband wireless footprint to Austria, Slovakia, and Croatia, and follows recent broadband wireless license acquisitions in Germany and Switzerland. NextWave has made no secret of its ambitions to increase its spectrum footprint internationally and in the U.S. (See Inquam lands Another Euro WiMax License, Inquam Gets Swiss WiMax License, and Euro WiMax RFPs Heat Up.)

WiMax Telecom has national broadband wireless licenses at 3.5 GHz in Austria and Slovakia, with 49 MHz and 56 MHz of spectrum, respectively. In addition, it has a wireless broadband license in Croatia that covers 68 percent of the population, with 39 MHz of spectrum. (See WiMAX Telecom to Invest $85M, Alcatel Supplies WiMAX Telecom, Austria Gets WiMax Network, WiMax Uses Hotsip Platform, WiMax Telecom Expands, WiMax Telecom Names COO, and WiMax Picks Alvarion.)

The operator has commercial fixed WiMax services in Austria and Slovakia and 8,500 customers. Commercial services in Croatia will begin at the end of the third quarter this year. Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR) supplies the WiMax network equipment.

Dov Bar-Gera, WiMax Telecom's founder, chairman, and CEO, says the investment from Inquam will allow WiMax Telecom to expand into new markets and introduce new services.

"WiMax [Telecom] has a clear strategy to expand into Central and Eastern Europe," says Bar-Gera. "With the support of our new partner, I am confident that our expansion will gain additional speed."

WiMax Telecom offers fixed wireless broadband services, but it says it will introduce mobile services when the technology is available. The operator says it is evaluating the performance of equipment from different vendors.

Only the license in Austria allows for mobility, and the operator expects that the regulators in Slovakia and Croatia will also allow mobility. Fixed wireless broadband operators in other European countries are also lobbying regulators to re-evaluate 3.5 GHz licenses and lift mobility restrictions. In the U.K., Ofcom just launched a consultation to review the terms of the 3.5 GHz fixed broadband wireless license owned by PCCW's subsidiary UK Broadband. (See Ofcom Issues WiMax Consultation.)

For WiMax Telecom, though, Bar-Gera says the focus is on growing its customer base, not launching mobility services.

"Today we offer fixed wireless broadband... And mobility will be available only in some time," he says. "The gaining of customers is more important today than just to wait for the next generation of WiMax technology."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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