UK Altnet Plans WiMax Blitz

British enterprise wireless access service provider On-Communications has committed to an extensive rollout of WiMax gear in the U.K.'s chief cities and towns, and believes WiMax will play an important role in the development of Britain's communications services landscape. (See UK Operator Goes WiMax.)

But the company's CEO, Ian Roberts, says he has no plans to get involved in the upcoming auction of WiMax-suitable spectrum in the U.K., as it just doesn't fit in with his business strategy.

On-Communications already provides fixed-wireless access services, using unlicensed 5.4GHz and 5.8GHz spectrum, to an unspecified number of U.K. business users in central London, Manchester, Oxford, and Sheffield. (Roberts won't reveal any customer or financial details.) The company, which broadened its coverage earlier this year with a couple of strategic acquisitions, feeds its customers' traffic to the metro hubs of its IP backbone partner Global Crossing (Nasdaq: GLBC) using microwave and leased line connections. (See On Communications Buys IP Net.)

Now Roberts says WiMax is ready for "prime time deployment," and that, starting in Manchester, his company is to deploy a significant number –- "in the high hundreds" –- of fixed WiMax base stations in its existing markets, where it will replace fixed-wireless infrastructure, and other urban and metropolitan areas around the U.K., including Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, and expanded coverage in the London area.

Roberts reckons WiMax can provide sufficient quality and class of service for enterprise applications, including VOIP, video, and unified communications. The CEO says his target customers are "companies that have a requirement for a 1-Mbit/s to 10Mbit/s link with guaranteed connectivity. In some cases that will be a company's primary connection, and in other cases it's an assured backup circuit for a primary fiber connection."

Airspan Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: AIRN) is the "preferred supplier for WiMax, but that's not to say we won't be using other technologies for specific applications or pipe sizes," adds Roberts. (See Airspan Wins UK Deal.)

And the On-Communications man believes WiMax is going to be a hot technology in Britain. "WiMax is going to be a big game player –- it's non-trivial. I expect to see WiMax widely deployed in the U.K., but it'll be used for a number of different applications. There will be lots of different types of deployments -- too many people view WiMax as a single [use] technology, but it has a number of uses -- fixed-wireless access, mobility, and as an alternative to mobile services. The other company that's committed to WiMax in the U.K. is using WiMax in a completely different way to us, for example," notes Roberts.

Though he couldn't bring himself to say the name, that other WiMax player is Freedom4 (formerly Pipex Wireless), which is more focused on delivering broadband services to individuals, rather than supplying business wireless access circuits. (See Pipex Becomes Freedom4 and Pipex Plans Urban WiMax Rollout.)

And Roberts will be steering clear of the upcoming auction of 2.6GHz spectrum that can be used for WiMax as well as regular mobile services. (See Brits Kickstart Broadband Spectrum Offer.)

"We've no plans to be involved in the upcoming WiMax spectrum auction. I expect the companies that will bid for that spectrum are interested in mobile WiMax, and that's something we're not doing," says the CEO.

And he warns other broadband wireless hopefuls to carefully consider their strategy before they commit to the WiMax spectrum and services fray. "Like a lot of nascent technologies, there are people that will try it and test it here and there, but if it's going to be sustainable it needs to be done with scale. No one who doesn't have scale will survive -– in my opinion, anyone who doesn't take that into account in their business plan won't make it."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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