Showtime for IPWireless

IPWireless Inc. is preparing an all-out assault on the European wireless market at the 3GSM World Congress industry event in Cannes next month (Feb 18-21), where it says it will announce two major OEM deals.

Though it plans to keep the names of the vendors under wraps for a few more weeks, IPWireless claims it already has teamed up with the equipment giants for meetings with carriers.

"We regard the partnerships as contract clinchers for deals with Tier 1 operators," says Jon Hambridge, senior director of marketing, at IPWireless, who was in fine horn-tootin' mode when Unstrung spoke to him today. He claims these relationships will deliver the volume of business that will take IPWireless to a cashflow positive position within 24 months.

IPWireless is known as an alternative wireless data infrastructure vendor. No, this doesn't mean it has pierced nipples or dies its hair pink. In fact, it's courting Tier 1 operators with its high-speed time-division duplex (TDD) data system that conforms to UMTS standards but (and here comes the "alternative" bit) uses the unpaired spectrum allocated to most 3G license holders.

IPWireless, currently in second place on Unstrung's Top 25 Startups, reckons carriers can deploy its full solution -- hardware and software -- for one-sixth of the cost of building out a full frequency-division duplex (FDD) 3G network, and provide revenue-generating data access services across a wide area at speeds up to 4.5 Mbit/s.

The company has already claimed to be close to deals with two European carriers, though their identities may not emerge until later in 2003 (see IPWireless Fattens Its Wallet). However, marketing director Mark Pittick hints that IPWireless is "working very closely with Vodafone Group plc [NYSE: VOD] in Europe, and that relationship is going very well. More than that we can't say at the moment."

The link with Vodafone is neither new nor restricted to Europe. Vodafone New Zealand jointly funded a trial of the vendor's equipment in New Zealand with privately held service provider Walker Wireless, which resulted in commercial deployment by Walker (see IPWireless Walks New Zealand).

"We expect a lot of our early deployments to be in the Asia/Pacific region," says Hambridge. "Australia looks like a strong possibility as the next territory." That would make Australia a wireless smorgasbord, given that it is already home to operators of GSM and CDMA networks and is the location for ArrayComm Inc.'s commercial deployment of its own alternative wireless broadband system (see ArrayComm Gets $7.9M in Oz and ArrayComm Goes Live in Oz).

With the 60-site, 180-base-station rollout in New Zealand already underway, IPWireless is looking to make life easier for users as soon as possible, as PCMCIA cards that slot into laptops are not yet commercially available. The current link between a user's laptop and the network is an IPWireless modem the size of an adult (yes, human) hand. "People have been attaching them to laptops with Velcro," admits Pittick.

These selfsame GIANT modems are currently being sold to customers in Jacksonville, Fla., where data service provider Clearwire Technologies is offering service to both business and residential customers from $49 a month [ed.note: makes us wonder whether the olde folke of Florida have trouble lifting them off the ground].

"The PCMCIA cards will start shipping in Q2 once our deal with Solectron Corp. [NYSE: SLR] kicks in," says Pittick (see Solectron Builds IPWireless). "And we are near to closing some deals that will involve the delivery of tens of thousands of PCMCIA cards."

In addition, IPWireless has its eyes set on the consumer product sector, too, as it ramps up to ship its system-on-a-chip product, manufactured by Flextronics Corp. (Nasdaq: FLEX), later this year.

With OEM, carrier, and manufacturing deals already signed off, the company's next goal is to have its technology embedded in all manner of consumer products.

Key to its uptake by all types of users and partners is the fact that its technology is based on an official wireless standard. "It has always been a core element of our strategy to be standards based. Our equipment conforms to the UMTS specifications, which is why the 3G license-holders can deploy our equipment within the conditions of their licenses," says Hambridge. "And we are very involved with the TDD standards working groups at 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)." (3GPP develops the releases of the UMTS 3G standard.)

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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