Wireless telco Unwired has shortened its list to three potential hardware suppliers for its WiMax network roll-out, which will see hundreds of base stations light up in the next 12 months to bring wireless broadband to 13 million Australians.
Motorola, Alcatel-Lucent and Chinese vendor Huawei were the trio who crossed the line after Unwired requested information from various suppliers, the company's chief technology officer Eric Hamilton told ZDNet.com.au today.
He would not disclose whether the list of three had been whittled down to one, but in a demonstration, where he showed the speeds WiMax could reach, Motorola equipment featured heavily.
Unwired's original, pre-WiMax network was supplied by Navini Networks, now a subsidiary of Cisco Systems.
The news comes as Unwired has finally crossed the line to profitability, recently signing up the total of 70,000 customers it required to break even. Parent company, the Seven Network's latest annual results said Unwired technically contributed a paper loss. An August 2007 briefing around Unwired's annual results saw the number sitting at 69,592.
When the WiMax roll-out occurs, the older equipment which Hamilton said services over 75,000 customers will not be decommissioned.
"We'd expect to see a gentle transfer of customers from one network to another," Hamilton said. Customers receiving services via WiMax technology could expect a minimum download speed of 2Mbps, Hamilton said, with 4 to 6Mbps expected.
The roll out will spread across the regions for which Unwired has spectrum coverage, including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Geelong, Newcastle and the central coast. There were no plans at this point to expand past the current spectrum footprint, Hamilton said.
In a Sydney demonstration of WiMax's capabilities, Unwired's WiMax achieved a download speed of around 11Mbps and an upload speed of 2Mbps receiving a signal from a base station 3km away in line of sight. Linked to another base station which had no line of sight, the technology achieved 2.5Mbps downlink and 1.3Mbps uplink.
At the same time, Telstra's BigPond was tested, as well as the Optus and Telstra 3G networks. The BigPond fixed broadband service Unwired had set up saw 5.7Mbps/859Kbps for a service rated at a maximum of 20Mbps. Optus' 3G achieved 1.3Mbps/323Kbps and Next G saw 2.8Mbps/608Kbps.
When queried on how many customers the new WiMax network would require for the company to break even, Hamilton would not be pinned down, saying that the company wasn't purely looking at a customer level, but at the millions of devices which could use the technology, such as smart meters. Utilities Energy Australia and SP Ausnet have been trialling WiMax for smart meters, he said.
Plans and pricing had not been set, according to Hamilton, although Unwired has purchased an Australian mobile phone billing system, New Vista, which Unwired plans to adopt and implement for event-based billing.
Mobile devices would be fair game for the technology, he said, believing that the next two to three years would see mobiles open up to having WiMax, 3G and Wi-Fi capability. Motorola has been looking into WiMax devices, he said.
Mobile carriers could use Unwired's WiMax services as mobile virtual network operators, he continued, implying that it might get some carriers "which are in deep trouble because of use of high speed data" out of a bind.