Canterbury trials WiMax ahead of summer launch

Commercial WiMax is on track to reach Kent in June

Service provider Telabria is starting a city-wide WiMax trial in Canterbury, weeks before it launches its wireless broadband service commercially.

"We are going to be making announcements about commercial services during June," said Jim Baker, chief executive of Telabria. "These trials with the University of Kent are focused on specific objectives."

"We hope to prove or disprove the smoke and mirrors that often go on around wireless services," said Baker. The trial follows a successful pilot, and will allow Telabria to develop the pre-WiMax services it will be launching next month. The Canterbury trial is expected to convert to a commercial service in September.

Baker wouldn't yet reveal the coverage and pricing of the commercial service due in June, but Telabria successfully tested equipment from Redline in the Swale area of Kent, around Faversham and Sittingbourne, up till last month. "We are not expecting WiMax certified equipment to ship before the end of this year," said Baker. "There has been slippage. At the same time, we have committed to rolling out wireless broadband services, so we will commence with pre-WiMax equipment, and migrate when its possible."

The test at Canterbury is intended to shape the future services Telabria will offer. "We will test all sorts of aspects of WiMax," said Baker, "looking at different frequencies, spectral efficiency, the real world throughput of different equipment and the true range of the cell."

It will include voice video and data, said Baker, who described a demonstration of full bi-directional videoconferencing over a 10Mbps link from the University to a mobile Land Rover. "That blows SDSL out of the water," he commented. Base stations will be placed on the University's buildings, and some local businesses may be invited to join in.

The test will include equipment from Alvarion and others, and will test interoperability of WiMax equipment, an aspect which has come to the fore with the delay of official testing from the WiMax Forum.

The frequencies covered by the university trial are likely to include the 3.6GHz spectrum licensed to PCCW, and the 5.8GHz band covered by Ofcom's "light licensing" regime. The test will operate under a research and development licence from Ofcom.

Spectrum will be the biggest challenge for WiMax, said Baker: "In Europe, there is almost no harmonisation of the spectrum that is suitable for WiMax. That is a big problem." Ofcom's plans to liberalise licences in its framework review would allow operators to bring WiMax services on stream more quickly, he said: "Spectrum trading will be very important," he said.

"Having the University in the trials gives us access to terrific resources," said Baker, "including excellent testing labs, and a very good department of electrical engineering".