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Optus considers Vividwireless' 4G future

What do you do with a company you bought for the spectrum that still has customers wanting to use the service?
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Almost two years on from its purchase of WiMax network vendor Vividwireless, Optus is considering the future of the company as more of its spectrum is used up by Optus' own 4G network.

When Optus announced that it would buy out Vividwireless in February 2012, it made no secret of the fact that the sale was in large part for the 98MHz of 2.3GHz spectrum that the company held for its WiMax network.

"The acquisition of Vividwireless will give Optus a significant increase in network capacity to address the next wave of data growth that is just around the corner," then-Optus CEO Paul O'Sullivan said at the time.

"By integrating it with our current 4G rollout, we will be able to provide increased mobile speeds to our customers in metropolitan Australia."

Optus began rolling out its time-division duplex long-term evolution (LTE) network in that spectrum band last year in Canberra, and has since progressively rolled out the spectrum in a number of other locations, combining two 2.3GHz spectrum bands for carrier-aggregated 4G services capable of higher data transfer speeds.

The conundrum facing the SingTel subsidiary, however, is how much longer it can continue to support the Vividwireless network while also pushing ahead with its expansive 4G rollout plans. According to Vividwireless' website, the WiMax network is still in operation in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, and Adelaide.

Optus' vice president of mobile engineering Andrew Smith told ZDNet that to date, Optus has been skirting around the areas where Vividwireless customers are located, and has partitioned the spectrum in some places.

"There are small pockets, but we've re-farmed around those, so that we can actually turn up the 2.3GHz band," he said.

"Our 2.3GHz band has been rolling out for almost a year now and we've been able to turn it up there, because we can partition the spectrum to make sure there is enough space for our 4G operations," he said.

He said that re-farming the 2.3GHz spectrum band in Perth has yet to occur, because there are more customers there than anywhere else in Australia.

"Perth is a different area, because you have a reasonable size base there that is making reasonable utility of the 2.3GHz band [so] obviously the Vivid business continues in Perth, and we are essentially looking at the engineering options for how we both co-habitate what is an existing WiMax service as we look to roll out in [2.3GHz]," he said. "Obviously, we need to work through what is the optimum solution."

Smith admitted that while Vividwireless is a good business, the future for the spectrum would be 4G services.

"We don't have a stated position at the moment, but we're very cognizant that the Vivid operation is a good business and continues, and that we won't be doing anything to harm that business," he said.

"We want to make sure it is supported, but ultimately, we will make a transition to 4G."

At the same time, Optus is also planning its own fixed-wireless 4G service similar to that on offer from Vividwireless, except it will operate on Optus' multi-band 4G network rather than over WiMax. The company is already testing out the technology with 200 of its staff members across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide.

It comes as former Vividwireless CEO Martin Mercer is due to depart Optus for Melbourne IT in April.

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