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French WiMAX is stepping stone to LTE

But will go national in 2010

French wannabe operator Bolloré Telecom will deploy a national WiMAX network in 2010, but admits that it's really waiting for LTE to arrive.

Bolloré owns 30MHz of spectrum around 3.5GHz; which is part of the problem, as existing WiMAX deployments and kit operate in the 2.5GHz band. That's already delayed deployment by a year or two, and now the company's CEO says it's waiting "patiently for the advent of LTE" while it finally deploys WiMAX to the larger French cities next year.

Despite having paid a total of €98m for band licences Bolloré hasn't managed to deploy anything, maintaining that WiMAX kit suitable for the 3.5GHz band has been prohibitively expensive as economies of scale haven't been achieved, leaving Bolloré to considering sub-letting some of its own frequency to other operators while it waits for the kit to get cheaper.

Telecommunications kit is very expensive, so economy of scale is essential and right now WiMAX just isn't getting there - US WiMAX operates at 2.5GHz so the kit won't cross the pond. Tri-band WiMAX hardware should come along next year, both portable terminals and base stations, so some economy of scale will happen - but that's not going to compete with the juggernaut that is LTE.

Like WiMAX LTE can, and will, operate on a wide range of frequencies and probably suffer from similar problems. But LTE has the backing of most of the existing GSM operators, and that makes for a lot of scale.

PolicyTracker pushed Bolloré executive Philippe Breuils on the CEO's comments about LTE and was told:

"It all really depends on what technology the telecom equipment vendors will adopt on the handsets they manufacture. In itself WiMAX is a good technology, but without an eco-system of terminals its viability is certainly threatened in competitive and mature markets."

When asked about the cost of such a transition PolicyTracker was told: "The ability to evolve is part of our pre-requisites to vendors anyway... Base-band modules and radio transceivers are more and more separate elements, replacing the base band can theoretically be done without changing a complete base station."

So one of Europe's biggest WiMAX deployments is planning to rent out some of its spectrum to the competition, while it struggles to deploy to the larger French cites next year and waits to climb aboard the LTE bandwagon just as soon as it arrives. ®

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