It seems to be a pretty busy week for the UK's WiMAX sector. Last week I wrote about Urban WiMAX' plan for symmetrical corporate wireless data services. Now, the large UK ISP Pipex, which has been mulling WiMAX for some time, has announced that it is forming a new venture called Pipex Wireless - which is the beneficiary of both Pipex' slice of 3.6GHz spectrum, and $25m from Intel Capital.
There's not much detail on this yet. We know that the services will be "designed to meet the needs of consumers,enterprises and governments for wireless broadband, including citywide 'hotspot'wireless access". And, interestingly it describes WiMAX as intended to "provide Internet access over long distances". As opposed to providing non-Internet access for "own brand" applications. Put that IMS/WiMAX combo on hold, then....
Some other things are notable for being left unsaid:
- It's not immediately clear what the % shareholdings are, Intel vs. Pipex
- It's not immediately clear whether this will be using 802.16d or 802.16e - although the timeline of 2007-2008 roll-out suggests it could be the latter, given availability of certified equipment. And the comment that the company is promising trials this year, when Pipex has already trialed 802.16-2004 extensively, is another give-away
- It's not immediately clear, if it is to be 802.16e, whether this will be a properly "mobile" service, or whether the regulatory situation is still sufficiently grey for this issue to be "lobbied over" before launch
- It's not immediately clear if there will be a dual-mode WiFi/WiMAX plan for enhanced indoor coverage (which will be necessary at 3.6GHz frequencies)
- It's not immediately clear whether VoIP will be provided by Pipex Wireless
The other aspect I'm trying to judge is just how much the whole thing is a means to Intel's ends, rather than being core to Pipex, which seems to have acquired the spectrum almost through luck. Given the amount of money that Intel spent on promoting the original WiFi Centrino, it almost seems as though this $25m just makes Intel Capital a sub-division of Intel Corp's marketing department.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into the press release's phrasing and mis-spelling - "top eight population centers by 2008" which sounds just like typical American Wireless-ese "top 8 markets" PR, written in a part of the world where the spellcheckers can't cope with "centre".
Right, some more thoughts on whether this is actually going to be a mobile / nomadic service. According to Ofcom, Pipex' 3.6GHz spectrum is for fixed access.
However, it is interesting to see that the 3.6GHz spectrum is subject to Ofcom's 2005 Liberalisation measures, which introduces "New Flexibilities". Although there's no specific mention of changing a fixed licence to a mobile/nomadic one, there is this section:
"12. Will Ofcom allow other types of variation other than those in the table?
Yes, Ofcom will consider any licence variation requests, but these may take a bit longer to assess. In the first instance we recommend that you contact the Ofcom spectrum liberalisation helpdesk for the type of service you are interested in. As well as discussing the feasibility of the request the helpdesk will also establish what information Ofcom will require from an applicant to progress their request.
Requests for complex or novel variations may require detailed technical analyses, consultation with third parties, and international coordination. We will endeavour to process these as quickly as reasonably possible and will in any case within a month of receipt of the application inform the applicant of our plan and projected timescale for progressing the application."
Clearly, there a plenty of other parties that would want to be "consulted" on this.... but with a 2007 deadline and $25m budget, this is definitely one to watch