U.S. Regional Carrier to Offer WiMax

A Massachusetts company that sells wireless broadband to enterprises is one of the latest service providers to get a nationwide license that will let it offer WiMax.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began accepting applications last November for nonexclusive spectrum licenses in the frequency band between 3.65GHz and 3.7GHz. Before rolling out services in the band, license holders have to review an FCC database for existing users of the spectrum in that location. Some radar and satellite facilities already use the frequencies, and service providers have an obligation not to cause interference. The FCC said it has already issued 233 licenses.

Pipeline Wireless plans for now to use the spectrum for a fixed WiMax network to help expand its current offerings in its existing service area in eastern Massachusetts. Pipeline provides a wireless alternative to wired connections at T-1 speeds (1.5M bits per second) and up. With the new spectrum, it will set up a fixed WiMax network. The company found no other 3.65GHz users in the area and registered itself, said Chris Hale, Pipeline's chief technology officer.

The growth in wireless services has increased demand for radio spectrum on which to deliver them. Earlier this year, the FCC auctioned off more than 1,000 licenses around the country in the prized 700MHz band for nearly US$20 billion. Microsoft, Google and other companies are trying to win approval for using unused "white spaces" within television spectrum for wireless data. The agency said it opened up the 3.65GHz band to encourage competition and expanded broadband services, especially in rural areas.

Pipeline's WiMax service will be different from those of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire, which plan to focus on consumers and will be using exclusively licensed spectrum in areas around the country to offer mobile WiMax. Using different-sized chunks of spectrum, Pipeline expects to deliver between 3M bps and 5M bps in one service and as much as 12M bps in another. Enterprises may pick a wireless service such as Pipeline's because it can be quickly provisioned and upgraded, costs less than a wired alternative or provides a backup in case wired links are accidentally cut, Hale said.

WiMax or other services in the 3.65GHz band aren't likely to play a big role in wireless data, according to industry analysts. The band is narrower than what Sprint Nextel and Clearwire hold in most areas, and those two carriers should be able to deploy their networks more economically because they are in the 2.5GHz band, which has farther reach, said Gartner analyst Tole Hart. A wider band generally means the ability to provide higher bandwidth, he said.

It may be hard for Pipeline customers to enjoy the cost benefits of WiMax, based on high-volume equipment, because most WiMax equipment worldwide is being built for either 2.5GHz or 3.5GHz, said IDC analyst Godfrey Chua. However, Pipeline's Hale said adjusting the commonly used 3.5GHz gear for the nearby 3.65GHz band doesn't add much cost. Pipeline expects to name its base-station and client equipment provider soon.

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