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Unwired Australia spearheads new WiMAX roaming alliance

Australasian operators set up 'spectrum club'

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Roaming is one of the critical success factors for any network seeking to be a global standard, and WiMAX is no exception. So far, the main roaming activity has centered on the pre-WiMAX Wi-Bro system, with the formation of the Wi-Bro and Mobile WiMAX Community (WMC) by leading Asian operators plus Covad.

Now a new alliance has burst on the scene, spearheaded by another hotbed of early Wi-MAX activity, Australasia. Inaugurated last week in Paris, the WiMAX Spectrum Owners' Alliance (WiSOA) has set itself an ambitious target of connecting a billion users (though in an unspecified time frame).

It limits its membership to companies that own licenses and operate WiMAX or pre-WiMAX services, contrasting with a previous, defunct attempt at creating a roaming group - the WiMAX Global Roaming Alliance (WGRA) - which was largely based around license exempt WISPs.

The contrast reflects the shift of the WiMAX movement away from such markets and towards carrier class, licensed band deployments, but the fading of the WGRA does not detract from the truth of its objectives, expressed by CEO Doug Bonestroo, when he said: "We realise that the larger telecom providers have a virtual lock on the 3G marketplace, and that the best way to counter that leverage is with a large group of partners in the US and around the world that are committed to standards-based WiMAX roaming."

The WiSOA's founder members contain four from Australasia - Unwired Australia and Austar Australia (part of the US-based Liberty Group of John Malone); Telecom New Zealand and Woosh Telecom - plus WiMAX Telecom of Austria, Enertel from the Netherlands, Network Plus Mauritius, UK Broadband and Irish Broadband.

All these were early adopters of broadband wireless networks, and many are now migrating these to fully standardised WiMAX, which will enable relatively straightforward roaming, technically speaking at least.

The members said they would sign their first international WiMAX roaming agreement in December, covering all WiMAX frequency ranges. This agreement, they claim, will act as the backbone of a future global network.

A further 12 members are on the point of joining the alliance it claims, with Reliance Telecom of India likely to head the queue. The WiSOA will act as the enabler and coordinator of roaming agreements between different WiMAX members, in a similar way to some alliances formed for Wi-Fi hotspots and metrozones, notably the Wireless Broadband Alliance. It points out that roaming revenues in the GSM world amount to $25bn a year.

Steve Cosser, chairman of Unwired Australia and a pay TV millionaire, will chair the WiSOA. He said at the Paris meeting: "WiSOA was established to facilitate the adoption of WiMAX globally, and with its exclusive membership of spectrum owners only, is in a unique position to do so."

It will work with the WiMAX Forum but has a more specific remit, which it may feel the forum has not prioritised - to accelerate roaming deals and, in so doing, to ensure that the value of licensed spectrum is fully realised by both government bodies and investors.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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