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Swedish kingpin backs new mobe technology in US

Rollout to start in Florida next month

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XG Technology has secured a significant infrastructure order from secretive Swedish billionaire Johan Bohman, enough to enable the company to subsidise the first rollout of its so far untested network architecture in Florida, scheduled for next month.

Deploying a mobile phone network based on an untested technology takes a lot of nerve, especially when that tech claims complete superiority over anything previously deployed. XG Technology has had a hard time finding partners willing to take the risk. But with an order for 4,000 base stations from Bohman-backed investment body Treco, as reported by the FT, the possibility of renting or loaning equipment to nervous would-be operators becomes a reality.

The deal is worth $300m to XG, and follows on from an initial order of 1000 base stations that was placed at the end of September. That volume of sales not only lets XG ramp up to mass production, but also indicates that Johan Bohman, at least, has faith in the technology.

XG Technology has spent the last nine years developing its tech, and a large part of that time went on trying to convince people that it works. Their developments are covered by 44 patent applications, but only 9 of these have been granted. XG is very reluctant to talk about the technical details that enable it to achieve sufficient bandwidth for sustained VoIP connections over the 900MHz ISM (unlicensed) band.

The company said that its devices hop around between 902 and 928MHz, and that their ability to transmit a bit of information on every cycle provides the bandwidth. They also don't require handsets to register with their local base station, so incoming calls are announced using a paging-style system, thus reducing power consumption considerably.

There have been some problems with the initial handset, along with the first-generation base station, but improved versions developed with the help of Cambridge Consultants are now in production. The handset features Wi-Fi connectivity as a fall-back and coverage-extender. Using Wi-Fi to extend coverage is a cause for concern, but the company argues that even with the decent range it claim is achievable at 900MHz it's going to take time to build sufficient infrastructure.

XG Technology isn't planning to run its own network. It wants to provide the technology to local partners, such as ISPs or fixed-line operators - anyone with decent IP backhaul. Rights in several regions of the USA have already been snapped up, though no licensees have been confirmed yet.

An upgrade to 96Mb/sec is slated for next year, but whether the technology will really perform as XG promises is open to question. The company is very defensive about its technology's capabilities, but has done trials and presented it to various luminaries. Johan Bohman's investment could well be more valuable as an endorsement of the technology than as a cash order, but until the first deployment we won't know if the company can really change the world of mobile telephony. ®

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