Pipex Wireless has rebranded its business and outlined its plans for the rollout of WiMax across the UK.
Now known as "Freedom4", the company has already undertaken trials of 802.16d — otherwise known as fixed or "nomadic" WiMax — in Milton Keynes and Warwick, but it now plans to expand its coverage across 50 UK cities, starting with Manchester.
"We have believed for a long time that wireless broadband is the key to the future," said Freedom4's chief executive, Mike Read, on Thursday. Read said that Freedom4 would initially target SMEs, because fixed WiMax is "very much like SDSL [symmetric digital subscriber line]".
Freedom4 has not yet revealed pricing. SDSL can cost hundreds of pounds per month and the fixed WiMax service is more likely to be equivalent in price to business ADSL.
Brendon O'Rourke, Freedom4's chief operating officer, said that the time was right for an alternative to fixed-line access. "Broadband internet is growing but the fixed-line market is [slipping]," he said. "There is an immediate market need for a service that does not need a fixed line. We are on the cusp of a market change." He added that the service would probably be offered on the basis of one subscription for multiple devices.
O'Rourke also suggested that the product would be ideal for enterprise IT managers to give to home workers because its 2Mbps speed would not be fast enough "for people to be doing things you don't want them to" — presumably things like online gaming — but the 2Mbps uplink would prove ideal for people like architects and photographers who find ADSL's uplink performance unsatisfactory. Speeds of 10Mbps or more should eventually be achievable through the service. One other company, Urban Wimax, is already offering the technology as an SDSL alternative in Westminster.
The plan is to eventually extend the service to consumers, although Read said that Freedom4 was holding off on doing so due to the current climate in the broadband market. "One reason we haven't gone with a consumer product now is that I know the industry will try to drive it down to free," he said.
As the company only has 45 employees and outsources much of its work, it is trying to retain "flexibility" as it tests various markets, said Read. Freedom4 will not sell the service itself, Read said, but instead it will offer it through Pipex's business-services wing. Pipex recently sold its broadband wing to Tiscali.
Freedom4's partners in its WiMax venture include Intel, Nokia Siemens and the equipment manufacturer Airspan.
The base-station equipment being used is software-upgradeable to 802.16e, also known as mobile WiMax, so, if Freedom4 successfully bids for spectrum in the 2.6GHz auction due in the first half of next year, it will be able to roll out that service quickly.
The company currently has a perpetual licence for 84MHz of spectrum between 3.6GHz and 3.7GHz, which it hopes to have altered in the future to allow both nomadic and mobile services. It also owns two 112MHz tranches of spectrum around 28GHz, which will allow high-capacity links but with a fairly short range.
Because WiMax is a long-range technology, its deployment will require roughly one base station per 3 to 3.5 square kilometre area in medium-density suburban areas. One base station per square kilometre will be needed in high-usage urban areas.