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Mobile WiMax Roams The Outback

Those who wonder about the feasibility of roaming between WiMax networks can look to Australia, where some 50,000 subscribers can do just that.

W. David Gardner

June 23, 2006

3 Min Read

As the wireless world waits for the WiMAX Forum to certify a mobile standard for the technology's unwired broadband segment, a Texas company suggests looking at a network in Australia with more than 50,000 subscribers to get a picture of what to expect.

"We're giving you a preview of what's going to happen," said Sai Subramanian of Navini Networks in an interview this week.

Navini's Australian pre-Mobile WiMAX deployment already consists of some 50,000 Unwired Australia subscribers and, as of a few days ago, a relative handful from TV operator AUSTER in the city of Wagga Wagga. Subscribers of the two disparate service providers are set up to seamlessly roam between the two Mobile WiMAX networks, proving that roaming between networks is a reality.

"We found that all customers want to migrate to the WiMAX standard," said Subramanian, who is vice president of product management and strategic marketing at the Richardson, Texas, firm. "The catch is: they want to deploy today."

To ensure a smooth transition when the WiMAX Forum issues final specifications for 802.16e (Mobile WiMAX). Navini's key products, including customer modems, are software-upgradeable. The company has a comprehensive lineup of WiMAX products to control and ensure that the entire network, from origin to end user, functions properly.

Its Ripwave MX product line ranges from customer modems, base stations, antennas, and element management systems (EMS) that cover the full range of Mobile WiMAX spectrums.

Unwired Australia moved quickly to embrace Mobile WiMAX, gobbling up spectrum licenses covering 95 percent of Australia's population. Its initial subscribers are centered around the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. The service provider installed more than 70 base stations in Sydney. Unwired plans to continue its deployment in capital cities and major provincial cities across Australia in the coming months. The company has said it expects one day to cover 70 percent of Australia's population and 75 percent of its businesses.

The service operates in the 2.3 and 3.5GHz bands. "Australia is in the unique position of having very large amounts of capacity in these two WiMAX-designated bands with no restraints on the type of technology that can be deployed," said Unwired CEO David Spence in a statement. "In many ways we are the envy of carriers in other countries."

Observing that its service is user-friendly, Unwired makes its customer-installable modems easy to get from retail outlets and via the Web. Users simply take their modems with them as they move about coverage areas in Sydney, Melbourne, and Wagga Wagga -- and throughout wide swathes of the country in the future.

Subramanian said the large Australian deployment has also been yielding some interesting sociological developments. "This isn't just a zero-sum game," he said. "There's an overall market incremental gain. Usually that happens when a monopoly is added to."

Noting that the initial rollout occurred in Sydney where Telstra has long been the telephony monopoly, Subramanian indicated Mobile WiMAX doesn't seem to take much business away from existing customer bases. Early Unwired subscribers tend to be young people who already have cell phone service and are accustomed to portable communications.

Navini Mobile WiMAX gear is being deployed throughout the world. To date, the service has been somewhat show catching on in the U.S., although BellSouth has installed some early gear, particularly in special situations. BellSouth has installed the gear in rural regions difficult to reach by DSL and in a college campus situation in Athens, Georgia.

The Australian deployment is something of a success story for Intel, which has nurtured Mobile WiMAX from its earliest days. The firm has made significant investments in both Unwired and Navini.

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