Services Startup Ditches Alvarion

U.K. wireless broadband startup Libera plc has undergone a major shift in market strategy, ditching equipment supplier Alvarion Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR) and turning its attention to the nascent WiMax sector.

In June this year the service provider announced its intention to launch a 28GHz wireless broadband network in London followed by an eventual national deployment, using kit from Alvarion (see Alvarion Liberates Libera and Libera Unwires London).

That strategy left Libera outside the emerging WiMax services market, which has been assigned three frequency bands -- the licensed 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz bands and the license-exempt 5GHz band.

Now the services startup has pulled the plug on its initial strategy and will instead provide 5.8GHz services aimed at the enterprise market. “It is an international, so-called unlicensed band that has now been made available for fixed wireless access,” founder and chief executive, Robert Condon, tells Unstrung. “That has changed all the dynamics of the industry... We made a decision to come out of the higher band because of the cost implications.”

Condon reveals the company is now using equipment from fixed wireless startup Aperto Networks. “We chose Aperto because it has the best technology to operate in this band. We don’t want interference and they have all sorts of interference management techniques we need to use. Although nobody else is using that spectrum, sometime in the future there will be competition and we therefore needed to choose the right equipment for the job.”

In June this year the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) officially ratified the WiMax standard 802.16 Rev d, and it's this standard that will underpin Libera’s offering. A glut of official WiMax Forum-certified products based on the specification are due out in the first half of next year (see WiMax Spec Ratified).

Until then Libera will deploy ‘pre-WiMax’ kit from Aperto. “There isn’t a lot of difference between what we are using now and future WiMax equipment,” claims Condon, gazing into his crystal ball. “What will happen from next year is the cost of customer equipment will come down and the economics will become much more attractive.”

First up on Libera’s target map is Bristol, a city in the southwest of Britain with a population of almost 400,000. A small trial is expected to start “in about two weeks' time,” followed by commercial operation in January 2005.

“The Bristol network is typical of a citywide network where we have one or two high sites and we typically work on an 8 kilometer footprint radius, which gives us about 50 square kilometers of coverage. That pretty well covers the whole city.”

Condon argues this project will give Libera an edge over rival services. Earlier this month Redline Communications Inc. and Telabria announced plans to launch “the U.K.’s first 802.16-based broadband wireless deployment,” with trials scheduled for January 2005 (see Telabria Deploys Redline).

“Whatever anybody else says, Bristol is the first,” counters Condon. “We will announce at the end of January that we have had a working system for a couple of months with customers on it.”

Following that, Libera plans to storm the U.K.'s capital. “We are negotiating right now for a site in west London that will cover a radius of 8 kilometres from Marble Arch. We intend to go live in London in February.”

To date the startup has been privately financed, but Condon is hoping to secure "a major funding round” early next year. “Provided the funding comes through, we are looking at rolling out up to 50 sites by the end of 2005.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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