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Monday, 07 February 2011 16:33

Vividwireless flags TD-LTE rollout

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Vividwireless says it is sufficiently impressed with the price and performance of TD-LTE technology that it could use it for the deployment of planned network expansions in major East Coast capital cities.

vividwireless has an 802.16e WiMAX network covering most of Perth and limited coverage in Sydney and Melbourne - primarily around major universities. It is about to turn on similar limited coverage networks in Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra but wider coverage of cities other than Perth is dependent on funding that it has yet to raise.

Its current WiMAX network is based on Huawei SingleRAN base stations that are software upgradable to TD-LTE and vividwireless has been trialling the technology with three base stations in Sydney - in Redfern and Zetland in the inner city and at Horsley Park in the city's far west.

The two inner city sites provide contiguous coverage enabling vividwireless to test cell handover. The Horsley Park site is being used to test very long distance coverage using fixed CPE with a very high gain RF section.

According to vividwireless, its two month trial has delivered peak downstream bandwidths up to 128Mbps and consistent bandwidths between 40 - 70Mbps using20MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz band (However there was very little load on the trial network).

At a demonstration of the technology at vividwireless' headquarters in the Australian Technology Park in Redfern, Sydney, vividwireless CEO, Martin Mercer, said: "The purpose of this trial was to see if the advanced TD-LTE technology is mature enough to deliver extremely fast mobile broadband services to our customers This trial has established that [such] services are within our reach, and can be delivered quickly and cost effectively."

He added: "The technology is far more mature than we had expected. The Huawei SingleRAN solution is basically ready to go today and is at a price point that would enable us to take service to market at prices comparable to what we offer today.

"We could deploy this technology in our east coast rollout and provide customers with services superior to those we provide today and equivalent prices. The question for us now based on the results of the trial is: do we rollout TD-LTE on the East Coast'¦and do we deploy it in other markets as well?"

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Mercer declined to specify when funding might be raised, saying: "If you had asked me six months ago I would have said we would have it by now'¦It is well advanced. We are in discussions with a number of operators in the region and they are showing a lot of interest."

He also declined to put a figure on the capital cost of an East Coast capital city rollout, but said: "Our capital costs are surprisingly low...We are not building a fully mobile network. In Perth we built 145 towers for a total capital cost of $54m and one third of that was cash flow costs until we became cash flow positive."

He added: "It will take us 12 months from when we secure funding to rollout a network on the East Coast. It took us six months for Perth and we are in a much better position. We have full radiofrequency design we have mapped all the site, we have already started work on the new OSS/BSS.

However he added the caveat that "The device ecosystem is less well developed." Choice of CPE at affordable prices will be largely determined b the scale of TD-LTE uptake in overseas markets. Huawei claims to have launched the world's first TD-LTE network in Shanghai last year, at the Shanghai World Expo and has since then to have been installing about 1000 base stations in each of five Chinese cities for China Mobile for trial networks. In November it secured the world's first commercial TD-LTE contract, with Polish telco Aero2. These networks between them will have millions of users, bringing CPE prices down.

There were growing signs of the rapidly growing momentum behind TD-LTE as the successor to Mobile WiMAX late last year. Around the time vividwireless announced plans for its TD-LTE trial, Energy Australia announced plans for a mobile WiMAX based smart grid network but said it would also start trials of LTE.

One cloud on the vividwireless horizon is spectrum. Its predecessor paid $95m for 98MHz in the September 2000 auctions, and this represents the bulk of the spectrum available to vividwireless today.

That spectrum was on a 15 year licence and uncertainty remains about renewal costs. Mercer said: "We are not concerned about getting renewal. The right question is what will the price be, and that is a question for the whole industry."

However much has changed since the purchase of the original licence. At that time it was far from clear just what technologies and services could exploit this spectrum - and it took vividwireless' predecessor two attempts with different technologies over four years before the Unwired service was launched.

Hence this spectrum sold for far less than cellular mobile spectrum. Today its usefulness is on a par with cellular and the cellular operators might be less than happy if a rival provider is given an advantage in the renewal price for its spectrum.

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